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Marcel Nies

18. Conch on a tripod base
Cambodia, Angkor Vat
12th century
Bronze, cast in the lost wax method in two pieces
height 35 cm (conch 32 cm/ stand 14 cm).

Conch on a tripod base

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.


all text, images © Marcel Nies

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