Saturday, November 24, 2007

The above image shows a Ladakhi woman. The chank shell (Turbinella pyrum) which is seen on her wrists is a precious material that is regarded as sacred throughout the Himalayan regions. It is widely known as conch but this is actually incorrect. A true conch is of the gastropod family known as Strombidae. Chank bracelets are usually placed on the wrists of young Ladakhi girls and once they have been outgrown they are cut off and replaced. A Ladakhi woman would wear these bracelets for the duration of her life.
Complete shells are used as ritual trumpets and are known by the name 'Dung Kar ' in Tibet. Shells that spiral to the right are particularly sought after and are regarded as the most sacred of these shells. It is also believed that the hair on the Buddhas crown spirals to the right. Round perforated disks (see image above) are an essential part of the hand held prayer wheel. A perforated disk sits at the top of the handle and helps the drum spin more smoothly. This is assisted by a length of bamboo that spins on the conch disk. Once the bamboo has managed to drill itself all the way through the disc, a new piece of conch is added and the process starts again. Used disks are usually worn as beads by the prayer wheel owner. These discs are collected over many years. Tibetans consider them to be imbued by energy of the thousands of mantras contained in the prayer wheel drum. Malas (prayer beads) can also be made from chank and are particularly sought after.

Tibetan Puja

The chank shell plays an important role in Buddhist symbology. It is one of the Eight Auspicious symbols, which reflects the spreading of the Dharma in all directions, like the sound of a conch trumpet. It is regarded as a symbol which fearlessly proclaims the truth of the Buddha's teachings. It is also believed that a Buddha displays self-manifesting signs on his or her body. This is one of the many indications that shows they have achieved enlightenment. The chank shell appears on the Buddha's throat, the soles of the feet, palms, limbs, breast or forehead. It is also recognised that the Indian subcontinent is the shape of a chank shell.

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