METRO PLUS

The conch that's extra-special

NOTE THE DIFFERENCE (Left) Normal conch (Right) Valampuri conch

NOTE THE DIFFERENCE (Left) Normal conch (Right) Valampuri conch  



The Valampuri conch (Miscellany January 2 & 16) continues to have readers searching for more information to enlighten others on this sacred shell. Reader V. Sethuraman, the latest to add to the knowledge, has sent me a whole pile of papers on the sacred Valampuri and I'm delighted it clears up some of my doubts, which have, no doubt, been shared by others. For instance, when I made reference to clockwise and counterclockwise spiral, I did so with some trepidation, because the shape of the conch permits the spiral being looked at in several different ways. I now know that the direction must be judged by holding the broader, rounded end (with the mouth that's blown) DOWN and the narrower, elongated end UP, with the opening to the interior and its edge with its 3-7 ridges FACING YOU. Then, if the opening and its edge are on your right, you have the rare Valampuri or Lakshmi or Vishnu conch, and if they are on your left, you have an Idampuri or common chank. All chanks, called by the scientific name Turbinella pyrum, however, are not sacred conches. The chanks found in the Palk Bay and Gulf of Mannar and in lesser numbers along the Coromandel coast from Madras to Puri come in colours ranging from white to red, brown, yellow and gray. It is only the white chanks that are sacred and the Valampuris, the sinistral turbinella pyrum, have to be even whiter, milk-white in fact. It is the use of the word 'sinistral', meaning left-handed, in scientific terminology that causes some of the confusion. In India, the Valampuri is considered right-handed because it is conventionally looked at with its bulbous side and 'mouth' facing downwards and its opening to the viewer's right. Apparently, only the Indian conch-shell should be used for religious purposes, NOT the Lightning Whelk shell, used in some Hindu shrines abroad. Only one in a thousand white Indian conch-shells is a Valampuri, which accounts for its price. A dealer states that Indian conches on the average weigh 60-120 gram and its common version costs about a rupee a gram, whereas Valampuris cost anything between Rs.1000 and Rs.3000 a gram, depending on quality and the number of ridges on the edge of the opening. S. MUTHIAH





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