"Sounding" or Blowing the Conch Shell

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Conch, or conque, is a musical instrument, a wind instrument that is made from a seashell, the shell of one of several different kinds of very large sea snail. These instruments are sometimes referred to as "shell trumpets".

The shells of large marine gastropods are prepared by cutting a hole in the spire of the shell near the apex, and then blowing into the shell as if it were a trumpet, as in blowing horn. Sometimes a mouthpiece is used, but some shell trumpets are blown without one.

Various species of large marine gastropod shells can be turned into "blowing shells", but some of the best-known species are: the sacred chank or shankhaTurbinella pyrum, the "Triton's trumpet" Charonia tritonis, and the Queen ConchStrombus gigas.

Conch horns have been used for centuries by indigenous Carribean and Pacific Island natives such as the Arawak Indians but the use of conch horns are found in other cultures as well. The greek god Triton was said to control the ocean's waves by blowing his conch-shell trumpet.

Conch horns are also used in religious ceremonies around the world. A Loa of Voodoo named Agwe (or Agive) is called by a conch horn to the voodoo ritual. Some Buddhist monks blow conch horns announcing prayers from the rooftop of their monasteries. A wedding ceremony custom among Bengali Brahmans involves having seven married ladies, headed by the bride's mother, processing round the bridegroom seven times. One of the women carries a conch and blows it as she goes.

A bathing ceremony in the river Ganges in India that is a part of the Hindu religious festival the Kumbh Mela involves ascetics rushing into the Ganges blowing conch horns and tossing marigold garlands into the air and the ancient Indian text Bhagavad Gita speaks of the conch horn as a way to cheer and protect the God Bhishma.

Conch horns are also listed by the US Coast Guard as an approved sound making device under the requirements of Rule 33.b and Annex III (C).

A young conch is often referred to as a "roller" because they have not yet developed the flaring lip of the adults. Without the large adult "lip" on the shell, these juvenile conchs will roll in the surf, hence the name "roller."