Conch shells (shanka) were widely used in Buddhist
religious ceremonies in Cambodia, during the Angkor period. This cult
object served as a vessel for holy water, a symbol of purity, and is believed
to bring happiness as it is used in wedding ceremonies to pour fragrant
water over the newly married couple. In addition, the conch was used as
a sacred musical instrument; blowing a conch shell created a holy sound
to ward off evil. The tripod served as a base for this ritual object and
is depicting a number of deities: garudas, nagas and other mythical animals.
The close association with water is emphasised by the three stylised aquatic
animals on the stand.
The central panel of the shell depicts Hevajra, the protector god who
in Vajrayana Buddhism belongs to the Yidam and who manifests himself as
an angry deity. As his name implies, Hevajra is a deification of the ritual
invocation to the Vajra (thunderbolt). Portrayed with eight heads, sixteen
arms and four legs, he is dancing on two corpses (demons). His symbol
is the kapala (skull-cup), symbol of the tantric manifestation. The Hevajra-tantra
refers to a number of six Yoginis who are associated with Hevajra: Guari
(form), Cauri (sound), Vetali (smell), Ghasmani (taste), Bhucari (touch)
and Khecari (thought); two of them flank the god. Both the conch and stand
are decorated with flower motif patterns and lotus leaves
Ritual conches were typical for the Angkor Vat period in the 12th century,
when the use of such objects was popular. A number of similar pieces are
known and published: P. Pal, 'The sensuous immortals', Los Angeles County
Museum of Art, nr. 153; Sherman Lee,'Ancient Cambodian Sculpture' (1969),
page 75, no. 37; Boisselier, 'le Cambodge' (1966) pl. LVIII, fig. 2; Madeleine
Giteau, 'Kunst und kultur von Angkor' (1965), no 87; Giteau, 'Angkor,
un people-un art' (1976), no 138; Michael Brand & Church Phoeurn, 'The
age of Angkor', (1992), 'The Australian National Gallery', Canberra, no
34; and 'Angkor et dix siecle d'art Khmer',(1997), no 105. The shapes
of these conches are relatively uniform; the base is spiral, and the mouth
holds a panel decorated in relief. The stylistic treatment of the piece
includes details of costume and ornamentation which is characteristic
for the Angkor Vat period.
This rare ritual cult object has a beautiful shape, exhibiting fine volumes
and finely articulated features. The tripod supports the conch both in
a physical and artistic way. The lively character of the total ensemble
is exemplified by the powerful expression of the mythical animals and
the convincing movement and presence of Hevajra.
published: Legacies of ancient civilisations, a selection of Indian
& South-east Asian works of art, Spink & Son ltd. London 1996, page
21 no. 43.
Formerly in the collection of Mr. H. Loschengruber, Germany.
Formerly in the collection of Spink & Son Ltd. London.