Date: 19th century

Geography: Kerala State, India

Culture: Indian

Medium: Shell (Turbinella pyrum), brass, wax

Dimensions: Sankh: 6 × 6 × 16 3/4 in. (15.2 × 15.2 × 42.5 cm)
Stand: 2 1/4 × 4 3/4 × 5 3/4 in. (5.7 × 12.1 × 14.6 cm)

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.