Kerala State, India
Shell (spyrum turbonella), brass, wax
L. of shell 16 3/4 in. (42.5 cm), L. of stand 5 3/4 in. (14.5 cm), H. of shell 5 3/4 in. (14.7 cm), H. of stand 2 3/8 in. (6 cm), Total H. 8 7/8 in. (22.5 cm)
Purchase, The Barrington Foundation Inc. Gift, 1986 (1986.12)
In Hinduism, the conch shell is usually associated with the god Vishnu, Lord of the Waters, but the brass fittings on this shell indicate a link with Shaivite ritual. The mouthpiece suggests a lotus, while the heavily decorated conical end depicts rows of nagas (serpent divinities) and wreath-bearing kirttimukhas ("Faces of Glory"). A yoni design (symbol of female energy) is interspersed between each naga and kirttimukha. The fitting terminates with the head of a makara (elephant-crocodile monster), atop which strides a yali (elephant-lion monster). Three figures rest at the upper edge of the shell's opening: the lingam-yoni, symbol of Shiva and representation of the unified male-female force; Ganesh, the elephant-headed son of Shiva; and Nandi, a milk-white bull who serves as Shiva's vehicle. The opening of the hoofed stand represents a yoni.