The sound of the Conch Shell or Shankha is synonymous with the beginning of something important in Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism), and Buddhism for it symbolizes luster, brilliance, purity, and auspicious beginning. It is considered to be a pious article and is used in all religious rituals.
The Origin of Shankha
It is widely believed that the first use of the Shankha took place during the Samudra Manthan or churning of the ocean. Legends have it that it was used and remained an object of benefaction during Samudra Manthan. Shankha is closely associated with Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi. Lord Vishnu is usually portrayed holding a conch shell. It is believed that during the Samudra Manthan, the first conch shell appeared, and Goddess Lakshmi followed it.
The God of Wealth is Lord Kubera – who is said to have eight auspicious jewels, and one of them was Sankhanidhi.
In the epic era, the sankha remained an integral part of warfare. And wars are restricted to daytime only. Thus the blowing of sankha during sunrise meant that war was on, and again it used to be blown at dusk, signifying retreat to the camps of night rest. It is used to signify the victory signal as well.
Importance of Shankha
Hindu socio-religious ethos deeply embeds the importance of Shank. Shankh symbolizes the cosmic space of which the attribute is Sabda or sound. The resounding musical notes of sacred sankha rent the air when it is blown during the religious ceremonies, and thus the devotee’s emotions get expressed. In religious rituals, Shankh is used to announce the beginning of a prayer or the arrival of a deity, and in some places, sacred water is collected and distributed in it.
While performing Lakshmi Puja, the conch shell is filled with milk, and then it is poured over the idol. Water collected in Shankha is offered while worshipping the sun.
Sankha is an integral part of Vaishnavite symbology. The most famous Shankha is the Panchajanya of Lord Vishnu. In the Mahabharata, Lord Krishna and the five Pandavas had a separate Shankha, and it is referred to at the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita.
Musical Importance of Shankha
Shankha is also part of classical Indian musical instruments, and there is also a mudra based on it in classical dance. There are also numerous legends associated with the Shankha in the vast Sanskrit literature.
Shankha in Hinduism
Brahma Vaivarta Purana
Shiva hurled his trident at the asuras, instantly incinerating them. Their ashes scattered into the sea, giving rise to conchs. It is believed that Shankha, one of these conchs, is the sibling of Lakshmi, as both emerged from the sea. Another legend narrates the demise of an asura named Shankhasura, who was slain by Vishnu in his fish avatar, Matsya.
Ramayana and Mahabharata
In the Ramayana, Lakshmana, Bharata, and Shatrughna are considered partial incarnations of Sheshanaga, Sudarshana Chakra, and Shankha, respectively. Their elder brother Rama is regarded as one of the ten Avatars of Lord Vishnu.
During the great Mahabharata war, Lord Krishna resonated with the sound of the Panchajanya conch to declare the onset of battle. Not only that, each of the five Pandava brothers possessed their own Shankha. Yudhishthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva owned Shankhas named Ananta-Vijaya, Poundra-Khadga, Devadatta, Sughosha, and Mani-Pushpaka, respectively.
Nagas and Shankha
There are several Nagas (serpent deities) who are named after Shankhas. Shankha, Mahashankha, Shankhapala, and Shankachuda to name a few. According to a legend, during a meditative ritual, a sadhu utilized the Shankha in the forest of Keoli village, and a snake emerged from it. The snake conveyed to the sadhu that it should be revered as Naga Devata (the Serpent God), and since then, it came to be known as Shanku Naga.
Types of Shankha
There are two types of Shankha – left-handed conch shell and right-handed conch shell. Valampiri Shankha or Lakshmi Shankha is the right-handed conch shell and is considered auspicious.
Right-handed sankha is kept at home by many people as it is believed to bring wealth and prosperity. It is also associated with Kubera, the god of wealth. Many institutions and organizations employ the conch shell as their symbol.
Hindu Gods holding Shankha
Lord Jagannath: The regional form of Vishnu known as Jagannath, primarily worshipped in Odisha, is often depicted holding the Shankha.
Lord Vithoba: Another regional form of Vishnu, known as Vithoba or Vitthala, worshipped in Maharashtra, may also be pictured holding the Shankha.
Goddess Lakshmi: Gaja Lakshmi, a form of the goddess Lakshmi associated with elephants, is depicted holding the Shankha in her right hand while holding a lotus in the other hand.