By Anupama Bhattacharya November 1997 Shells have always held a mystical fascination, especially in India. Considered auspicious, shells find their way into most Hindu rituals and often have a place of honor in households. White, brown or pale, it is not difficult to come across a shell either on a sea-beach or in the market. In fact, shells of all shapes and sizes are readily available in sea-side cities. However, the white, rounded conch-shells with a hole in the front are generally imported from Egypt and can cost anything from Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 or more. These shells are most often large and create a billowing sound when blown. Shells are often mentioned in Indian mythology. Lord Krishna discarded his flute for his conch-shell Panchajanya when he left Vrindavan. The shell later played an important role in the Mahabharata war. Even in Greek epics the blowing of a conch- shell is regarded auspicious. Percy Bysshe Shelley, the famous Romantic poet, used the conch-shell to herald a dawning new age in his lyrical drama Prometheus Unbound. In Hindu customs, not every shell can be used in rituals. The horned shells are never found in temples. Only a shell that turns towards its left is used for worship. The holed ones are blown before, during or after a ritual but are never actually a part of the prayer rituals. The smaller shells are often used for predictions. The shankha (conch shell) mudra is also used during various tantric rituals and meditations. Shells—basically the external skeleton of various kinds of snails—can be fascinating for the intricate patterns nature carves on them:, Traditional importance apart, shells are also widely sought for decoration purposes, especially the horned shells. And of course, if you yearn for the sea, you can always hold a shell close to your ears and you might actually hear a vast ocean rolling in it.
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