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White Conch with Right Spiral

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Period: Qianlong reign (1736–1795), Qing dynasty (1644–1911)
Medium: conch, gold, gems
Origin: Tibet
Dimensions: total length: 21.9 cm; width: 8.5 cm

Also known as a dharma conch or shankha (Chinese faluo, lit. “conch of law”), this conch has a pure white, lustrous surface. The aperture and outer lip have been embellished with gilded silver and inlays of variously sized cuts of ruby, sapphire, cat’s eye, and turquoise. The ornate outer lip is engraved with a Tibetan mantra, but the words are no longer decipherable. The ritual object is stored in a rectangular leather case, in which is found a white damask label with an inscription in Chinese, Manchu, Mongolian, and Tibetan in black ink indicating the white conch with a right-oriented spiral was presented with reverence and blessings for longevity and fortune by the Panchen Erdeni.

White conchs are considered sacred shells in India and said to represent the Buddha’s mellifluous teachings, which are believed to continue with perpetuity and liberate all living beings. In Tibetan Buddhism, the conch is often used as a wind instrument or as a receptacle for nectar (Chinese ganlu). On the second day of the eleventh lunar month in the forty-fifth year (1780) of the Qianlong reign (1736–1795), the sixth Panchen Lama passed away at West Yellow Temple (Xihuang si) in Beijing. The following year, the lamas of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery identified four boys as possible reincarnations (Chinese hubilehan, lit. “emanation body”) of the Panchen Lama. After authentication by a lama known in Chinese as Suoben Kanbu Zhasake, a boy was recognized as the reincarnate lama on the eighth day of the fourth month in the water-tiger year (1782) of the Tibetan calendar. The boy was born in a place called in Chinese Bannangjixiong. The names of his father and mother were recorded in Chinese as Badandunzhu and Qimeijiamao, respectively. On the eighth day of the eleventh month of that year, the eighth Dalai Lama Jamphel Gyatso (1758–1804) confirmed through ritual divination that the boy was the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama and sent word to the Qianlong Emperor. On the twentieth day of the twelfth month, the emperor proclaimed his recognition of the reincarnate lama and, in accordance with custom, gifted the Dalai Lama, the Panchen Erdeni reincarnate, and others each with a khata (Chinese hada, ceremonial scarf), jade ruyi-scepter, and coral beads via the grand minister resident of Tibet. On the thirteenth day of the eighth month of the water-dragon year (1784), the reincarnated Panchen Lama was inaugurated at the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery with joyous celebration by the host of monks. On the seventh day of the ninth month, the seventh Panchen Lama followed the eighth Dalai Lama in accepting the morality and abstinence required of a lama. On the fourteenth of the first month of the water-snake year (1785), the Qianlong Emperor sent the grand minister resident of Tibet to visit the Panchen Lama with gifts of documents and khata. In response, the Panchen Lama sent a khata and other gifts along with his written expression of gratitude to the emperor.

Chinese entry by Lin Huan
Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying

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