Date: 19th century

Geography: Kerala State, India

Culture: Indian

Medium: Shell (Turbinella pyrum), brass, wax

Dimensions: L. of shell 42.5 cm (16 3/4 in.); L. of stand 14.5 cm (5 3/4 in.); H. of shell 14.7 cm (5 3/4 in.); H. of stand 6 cm (2 3/8 in.); Total H. 22.5 cm (8 7/8 in.)

Classification: Aerophone-Lip Vibrated-trumpet / trombone

Credit Line: Purchase, The Barrington Foundation Inc. Gift, 1986

Accession Number: 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 kirtimukhas ("Faces of Glory"). A yoni design (symbol of female energy) is interspersed between each naga and kirtimukha. 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.