A ritual shell trumpet






19th century


Forging, repoussé, chasing, gem-setting


Seashell, silver, corals, turquoise


Length 505 mm; width 220 mm

All mounts, namely a conical mouthpiece, a small "wing" and an elongated tip, are made of silver and repoussed with various vegetal, geometric and animal motifs. The tip features a large disc-shaped knob. In addition, the shell is adorned with plaques of different shapes and sizes that are decorated in repoussé as well. On the obverse side, there is a crossed vajra (Tibetan: rdo rje rgya gram) surrounded by two dragons and lotus flowers. The large plaque on the back of the shell contains the image of the eight-spoked "wheel of law" (Sanskrit: dharmacakra; Tibetan: chos kyi `khor lo) with a "wheel of joy" (Sanskrit: ānandacakra; Tibetan: dga` `khyil) in the centre. The frame is additionally set with coral and turquoise cabochons, some of which form the symbol of triratna or "Three Jewels" (Tibetan: dkon mchog gsum) in four places.

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. Thе shell trumpets that are equipped with a "wing", as in this case, have the special name "rag gshog-ma". The presented example is made from a right-turning shell of a large sea gastropod species Turbinella pyrum, inhabitant of the Indian Ocean. Precisely the Turbinella pyrum shell is known as "shankha" in India, as "dung dkar" in Tibet, and also the "divine shell" or the "sacred chunk" in the Western world, in the English language. In Hindu mythology, the shankha is a sacred emblem of the god Vishnu, as well as the eternal abode of Lakshmi, the wealth goddess and consort of Vishnu. Hindus consider the sound of shankha to be the primordial sound of creation. In Buddhism, it represents the voice of the Buddha and the truth of the dharma. The right-turning shankha (Sanskrit: dakshinavarti shankha; Tibetan: dung dkar g.yas `khyil) is extremely rare in nature. It is considered ideal for religious rituals and is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism (Sanskrit: astamangala; Tibetan: bkra shis rtags bryad).