A ritual shell trumpet






18th century


Forging, chasing, engraving, carving, stamping, gilding, gem-setting


Seashell, copper, corals, turquoise


Length 345 mm; width 235 mm

The white seashell is carved in relief with a mandala (Tibetan: dkyil 'khor), a sacred graphic symbol of complex structure, which is interpreted as a model of the Universe in Buddhism and Hinduism. The mandala is additionally set with small coral and turquoise cabochons. The rest of the seashell surface is dull polished and engraved with a Tibetan inscription. All copper mounts, namely a cup-shaped mouthpiece, a wide "wing", a conical tip and a large spherical knob, are chased and engraved with floral and geometric motifs. Stylized lotus flowers on the mouthpiece and knob, as well as geometric borders on the tip and "wing" are highlighted with gold. On the obverse side of the "wing", there are images of a dragon and Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism or ashtamangala (Tibetan: bkra shis rtags bryad), which are also gilded. Some of these symbols are repeated on the mouthpiece and "wing". The reverse side of the "wing" is stamped with a large round medallion containing a floral ornament on the circumference and a "Wheel of Joy" or anandachakra (Tibetan: dga` `khyil) in the centre.

COMMENT. The presented item is a Tibetan Buddhist ritual shell trumpet called "dungkar" (Tibetan: dung dkar). It is used as a musical instrument in various religious and magical rituals, for example, to invoke spirits or banish evil. The shell trumpets that are equipped with a "wing", as in this case, have the special name "rag gshog-ma". The "classical" dungkar constitutes a metal-mounted white seashell. Actually, the Tibetan term "dung dkar" is applied to the shell of a large marine gastropod species Turbinella pyrum, which is known as "shankha" in Hindu mythology. The extremely rare and especially valuable right-turning white shell (Sanskrit: dakshinavarti shankha; Tibetan: dung dkar g.yas `khyil) is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism (Sanskrit: astamangala; Tibetan: bkra shis rtags bryad). In addition to the white seashell, this sacred set also includes a jeweled parasol, a pair of golden fish, a treasure vase, a lotus flower, an endless knot, a victorious banner, and a gold wheel. They represent the offerings of the great Vedic gods to Shakyamuni Buddha upon his attainment of enlightenment.