The Sangu, or sacred conch shell is very auspicious in Hinduism and is used in many rituals. However, I have heard of a rare Valampuri Sangu which is supposedly even more sacred to use.

What is the Valampuri Sangu and how can I identify it?

  • 2
    What language is "Valampuri Sangu"? Are you talking about dakshiNavRta sankha? – user1195 Feb 11 '15 at 9:40
  • @moonstar2001 Valampuri is Tamil. Dakshinavarti Sangu is the Sanskrit name for the same thing. – Akshay Feb 14 '15 at 20:45
  • OK. It would help to at least give English translations, if not Sanskrit, when using terms in the vernacular. Also, in Sanskrit it is Sankha not sangu. Thx. – user1195 Feb 15 '15 at 0:56
  • I agree with @moonstar2001, you should give Sanskrit versions of terms rather than other languages. (So for instance Vimana rather than Vimanam of Viman.) See my answer here: meta.hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/233/36 And things in languages other than English should be translated. – Keshav Srinivasan Feb 15 '15 at 15:50
up vote 5 down vote accepted

What is a Sangu?

When performing Aradhanam for Perumal, it is important to use a Sangu or conch shell to bathe the Vigraham. Sangu are also commonly blown at the beginning and end of Arti in North Indian practice

The conch shell to be used comes from a particular species of sea snail known as Turbinella Pyrum, which can be found exclusively in the waters of the Indian Ocean. It is important that one uses the shell from the correct species, much as one should not use the leaves of another plant in place of Tulasi.

Turbinella Pyrum

Valampuri Sangu

You will notice in the picture above that if one were holding the Sangu with the crown facing upwards, the opening would appear on the right side of the shell. This is called a dextral shell. In very rare cases, approximately 1 in every 100,000, the shell will form with the opening on the left side, known as a sinistral shell. These extremely rare shells are known as Valampuri Sangu, and are considered very auspicious to use, as they are sacred to Lakshmi.

False Valampuri

Given how rare the Valampuri Sangu is, many scam artists will attempt to take advantage of buyers by hoarding Sangu to artificially inflate the price, or by falsely selling the shells of a different species as Valampuri Sangu. As a result, one must be especially careful when purchasing Sangu to ensure that one gets the correct species which can be used in worhsip.

Lightning Whelk

Shown above is the Lightning Whelk (Busycon perversum). This snail is native to Florida and the Caribbean islands. You will notice that it is sinistral, that is the opening is on the left of the shell. In fact, it is extremely rare to find a dextral Lightning Whelk shell.

Because of their naturally sinistral form, Lightning Whelk shells are often sold as Valampuri Sangu even though they are not the correct species and cannot be used in worship. It is easy to mistakenly purchase and use the Lightning Whelk shell thinking that it is a Valampuri Sangu so one must be very careful.

Identifying a True Valampuri

There are many features which distinguish the correct species Turbinella Pyrum from the Lightning Whelk. By paying attention to these differences, a careful observer can easily identify whether a shell is a true Valampuri Sangu or a fake.

  • Columellar plicae: T. Pyrum has 3 to 7 ridges along the inner column at the opening of the shell. The Whelk does not have these ridges and has a smooth inner column.
  • Knobs: The Whelk has many knobs, or raised bumps, along the spiral at the crown of the shell. By contrast, T. Pyrum has smooth spirals.
  • Crooked siphonal canal: The long end of the Whelk shell will usually (but not always) be slightly crooked. By contrast the long end of T. Pyrum tends to be fairly straight.

You can even see these differences illustrated in the pictures above. Of course, keep in mind that if it is difficult to tell, it is always better to use a dextral Sangu of the correct species than a sinistral Lightning Whelk.

Sources

  • 2
    In addition to being sacred to Lakshmi, another reason why a sinistral conchshell is used is because that is the kind of conchshell that Vishnu holds. – Keshav Srinivasan Aug 29 '14 at 16:43
  • @KeshavSrinivasan Very true, although I have a hunch that Vishnu is usually depicted with that particular variant specifically because it is sacred to Lakshmi. – Akshay Aug 29 '14 at 20:24
  • @KeshavSrinivasan Also, after doing a few google image searches it looks like Vishnu is actually more commonly depicted with the dextral variety, so it could also just depend on the temple. – Akshay Aug 29 '14 at 21:58
  • I think that's just because most people are more familiar with the the look of the dextral conchshell, so they automatically assume that's what Vishnu has. But I think Vishnu's actual Panchajanya Shankha is a sinistral conchshell. Let me try to find a reference for that. – Keshav Srinivasan Aug 29 '14 at 22:04

I agree with the previous statement that the true Valampuri is a sinistral (whorls turning anti-clockwise fashion) variety of the species Turbinella pyrum L. It shows three to seven plaits or folds in the conch cavity (generally three to three and half). The best way is to do X Ray examination of the conch anatomy. It is essential since many fake Valampuri shells are floating in the market made by cut and paste method and then covering skilfully by the conch skin or greenish periostracum. True Valampuri is generally sold on the weight basis. It is charged in the range of Rs. 1500/- to Rs. 3500/- per gram.

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