Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Conch Shell Trumpets: Dung dKar དུང་དཀར་

Conch shells are fun, and conch shell trumpets are fun to the level of being necessary fun. We all know the conch shell as one of the eight auspicious symbols, and we all know what it symbolizes. Some Tibetan divination manuals prescribe the blowing of conch shells to correct or enhance certain matters, and the trumpets are, of course, an inherent part of many rituals and practices. Since everyone seems to be in a festive mood, and since good things are happening hither and yon, why don't we make a quick visit to the world of conch shell trumpets?

From a Tibetan perspective, the most precious ones come from Namtso -- the highest saltwater lake on the planet. There is a grand one, said to belong to the naga king of Namtso, later presented to Yeshe Tsogyal, and recovered by Beru Khyentse Rinpoche after the Cultural Revolution. One also sees splendid examples in the world's museums (the one at the British Museum is pictured above), and a myriad of sucker-priced offerings in the tourist traps of the Tibetan Buddhist realms.

But, in the universe of conch shell trumpets, Tibet actually came late to the game. These trumpets have been used in many other places around the world -- inside and outside the Buddhist context -- for centuries and centuries.

One of the nicest conch trumpets comes from Japan -- the Horogai. Unlike those from India, Tibet, and elsewhere, the Horogai can actually produce more than one tone. Nowadays, they are difficult to find, but there is a small market niche among the Japanese samurai reenactors (something like our own Civil War reenactors, but with much more splendid uniforms, and rougher sports). I did find one firm in Japan where you can get them at prices ranging from USD $198 to $420.

Much closer to home we find the pu, or island shell wedding horns, usually made from the queen conch, but which can also include tritons much closer in appearance to the Tibetan trumpets. Prices for new ones begin at around USD $25 and go up from there.

Finally, if you are the do-it-yourself type, you can make a conch shell trumpet with a Dremel, or a couple of hand tools. Here is a good-natured, backyard how-to video, made by some high school kids, that demonstrates the process:

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1 reader comments:

David said...

Horogai are still used in Tendai and Shingon rituals. I attended a big Tendai ritual in Japan that featured lots of them- they have a rich, haunting tone. I would recommend anyone looking for a conch shell trumpet consider a horogai if money is no object.