Vinayena Prarthayeham Vidyam Bhodaye me GURO
Margamannyam Na jane aham Bhavantam Saranam
SHANKA (CONCH)
DEFINITION

SHANKA or CONCH is the common name that is applied to a number of different medium to large-sized sea dwelling SNAILS and more particularly, their SHELLS or EXOSKELETON. (While most animals have ENDO SKELETON, Bones inside the body, some have bone like hard structure outside their body EXOSKELETON) Hence you would get a Shanka after the death of the animal living inside the shell.
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The term generally applies to large sea snails whose shell have a high SPIRE and a noticeable SIPHONAL CANAL. The spire is the upper tapering point of a sea shell and the whorls inside forms siphoning canals and ends at a point. We can say that CONCHE or Shanka has pointed ends on both the tips.
BIOLOGY
Typical conches are GASTROPOD MOLLUSCS of MARINE ORIGIN and they belong ton the family called Strombide and they belong to the genus called Strombus.
The majority of molluscs, including queen conch, are of the Class Gastropoda, whose name translates from Latin as "stomach foot."
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Mollusks are soft-bodied animals that have a hard external shell composed of calcium carbonate. The shells are capable of growing and the animal adds calcium carbonate from its secretions and coats on the walls of the shell to thicken it.
Conches have a shell that the spirally shell can grow sinistral (Right-handed) or dextral (Left-handed) depending on the species
They are Hermaphrodites; having both male and female parts, but reproduces through internal fertilization.
They feed on Sea grass, algae and other detritus .
Perhaps you may call it PURE VEGETARIAN.
Conches also include the sacred chank or more correctly shankha shell (Turbinella pyrum) and other Turbinella species in the family Turbinellidae. This species is found living in the Indian Ocean and surrounding seas. The shell resembles porcelain. The surface of the shell is strong, hard, shiny, and somewhat translucent.
TYPES OF CONCHESClick image for larger version. 

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Based on the direction of spiraling, we have two types of Conches.
The most common one is the left handed spiraling conches known as DEXTRAL form of the species or VAMANVRATA in Sanskrit. When you collect in the sea shore this form is one you would get. When you look at them in a shop too, the left handed ones are the most common.

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Very rarely you get the right handed spiraling conches , known as SINISTRAL form of the species. In tamil this form is called VALAPURI SANGU. It is very rare indeed. All species of conches do have left handed and rarely the right handed one.
But the shell of Turbinella species in pure white in colour is most rare and highly sought after for its qualities.
SIGNIFICANCE OF SHANKA
SANATHANA DHARMA and BUDDHISM talk very high of Shanka

  • It is believed that Shanka appeared before LAKSHMI; hence one school of thought considers Shanka as the older brother of Lakshmi.
  • Sanatana Dharma considers all SHANKA to be important; but the DHAKSHINAVART or Right Handed VALAMPURI Shanka is given greater importance.
  • The right spiralling of Dhakshinavarti is considered to represent the motion of planets. It is also compared with the hair whorls on the head of Buddha.
  • Skantha purana and Varaha purana states that ABHSHEKAM to Sri VISHNU performed using Dhakshinavarti shanka removes sins of the previous seven janmas.
  • Dhakshinavarti (Valampuri) shanka is believed to grant Longevity health, fame and wealth proportional to its size, whiteness and sheen.
  • Even if there is some defect in Dhakshinavarti shanka , it can be removed by covring it with gold and its virtues are restored.
  • Of all the PRIMORDIAL ELEMETS in the UNIVERSE SOUND stands first to appear.The sound from the CONCHES are considered to be the ORIGINAL SOUND.
  • Ignoring the mythology part, the conch shell's significance may also be corroborated through scientific observation.. If one tries to hold a shankha near one’sr ear, the sound of the gently humming ocean could be heard. This is attributed to the natural vibration or cosmic energy of the Earth which gets magnified on entering the conch shell.
  • The sound from the Shanka symbolises the Pranava Nadham, OM
  • The word Shanka is also believed to have originated from Shankara bringing the great philosophy of SIVAVISHNU bedha dwamsam.
  • Brahma Vaivarta Purana describes shanka is the residence of both Vishnu and Lakshmi and declares Vishnu as God of sound.
  • Shankha is one of the nine auspicious objects – Navanidhi – of Kubera who is the Lord of wealth.
  • Shanka nadam is considered to be an auspicious sound before the start of any ritual.
  • The famous PANCHAJANYA, the shanka of LORD KRISHNA, actually means “having control over five types of beings”; it “is the fountain that evolves the five elements, i.e., water, fire, air, earth and sky or space.”

COMMERCIAL VALUE

  • Conches are used as food either raw in salad or coocked.
  • Many specie4s of Conches bear PEARLS in them.
  • Conches are used as decorative item.
  • In India it is used in religious ceremonies and Temples.
  • Conch is protected under the international treaties Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of flora and fauna (CITES) and Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW). CITES controls how many conch meat, conch shells and conch shell products may leave or enter a country.
  • Shanka in the form of Bhasma is used to treat acidity and indigestion.
  • Even to day Shanka is used to feed infants in villages and traditional homes . A conch called PAL SHANKU is used for the purpose. This was the only means to feed babies before the invention of SPOON..

IN CONCLUSION
The significance of shanka is given in a NUT SHELL. There are a lot to know about it and to understand it.
FACT REMAINS , TWO GREAT FOSSILS that might have originated at the birth of MOTHER EARTH , namely, SHANKA and SALIGRAMA have gained importance as the symbol representing VISHNU , the protector.
Both are used after the animal that lived in it as its home have left. Does this signify our transient existence in our body and eternity of the reverence as pitrus or rishis in Upakarma.
Having these two at home does a lot of good to the resident and brings Mahalakshmi at home.
One should not fall a prey to shops including on line who sell conches illegally and beware of clouts and fakes.