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Sankha Shell

The Sankha, also spelled shanka or shankh, is a ritual horn made from a conch shell. This revered item is closely associated with Vishnu, the Preserver, a member of the Trimurti, along with Brahma (the Creator) and Shiva (the Destroyer). In the Nepalese tradition, it is also the 5th gift of the Ashtamangala (Astamangla), or 8 Auspicious Gifts, which were given to Buddha upon achieving enlightenment.

Believed to have originated when Shiva burned the asuras with his trident, their ashes then created conchs in the sea. A war trumpet in ancient times, blown before battle in more modern decades by Sikh warriors, sankhas are used today for a range of ceremonial and healing purposes, and before commencing puja. 

A symbol for water, the sankha is associated with female fertility, and believed to bestow fame, longevity, and prosperity. The abode of Lakshmi, goddess of abundance, the sankha is typically held by Vishnu in his upper left hand. 

Holding the power to dispel sins merely with its sight, the sound of the sankha is that of sacred Om. Vishnu, the god of sound, holds a sankha in many of his different incarnations, including Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, and Narasimha. Krishna is said to own a powerful sankha called Panchajanya, and it is often shown in the repertoire of Durga, Kali, Surya, Indra, Ganesh's brother Kartikeya, and many others. The sound of a sankha shell is believed to purify, destroying all evils in its presence. As such, it has many healing uses in Ayurvedic medicine. 

In Buddhism, it is believed the melodious tone awakens disciples from their slumber of ignorance, thus putting them on the path to enlightenment, and ready to prioritize the welfare of others. The vibrations and frequencies emanating from the blast of a sankha shell, which should always be blown at least three times and to an odd number, are said to focus the attention of the divinities, especially Vishnu, on the area of worship and to the prayers of those in attendance. 

Sankha shells are prized family possessions throughout the Indian subcontinent, and across the world. Master artisans from Nepal and elsewhere, enjoy flexing their time honed skills on conchs of all sizes, turning them into sankha heirlooms of magnificent beauty. 

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