Allen W Thrasher athr at LOC.GOV
Tue Jan 27 21:31:34 UTC 2009

Dear Stefan,

That would be logical, but the thing on his chest doesn't look much like a conch to me, except perhaps in color.  It seems to be pretty much bilaterally symmetrical, which of course conchs aren't.  The artist would have been able to do a recognizable conch, because he would have seen (empty dead) conchs, and they are represented in Indian art in as an auspicious symbol in a form easily recognizable as such (to the modern Western eye).  To my eye the "blob" just barely conceivably could be a conch crawling along in the sea with its mantle expanded outside its shell, but whether an artist would have ever seen such a thing seems doubtful, though presumably it would be visible on occasion on the coast of the Arabian Ocean but that's many hundreds of kilometers away from Bikaner.

The demon's limbs and body seem to me possibly to be shown as more boneless than the other figures in the picture, the line of the neck and chin rather smooth, and the color combination (pink and green) odd but not perhaps obviously demonic (they are of course the colors of the grass and the wall just above him).  Also, could the 'horns' be meant to be antennae, appropriate if the painter knew that the animal that inhabited a Shankha was a sort of snail?  If one looks at the picture at a low magnification, the horns and head seem rather bovine, but I find that if I download it and then magnify as far as possible, the bovine appearance disappears except for the horns, and a resemblance to the body of a univalve seems possible.  Also, I can't see that the "hands" or "front feet" have either fingers or hooves; they seem to taper smoothly to a point.  

So, in conclusion, is the demon being represented as a sort of humanoid mollusc?

All the best


>>> Stefan Baums <baums at U.WASHINGTON.EDU> 1/27/2009 3:03:42 PM >>>

Dear Allen,

is it possible that the thing on the asura's body is not any attempt at biological realism at all, but just an image of a conch shell superimposed on his figure to identify him as "the conch demon"? His superhero (or supervillain) emblem, as it were? (And in the context of the story, a reminder of his former shape, before he was transformed into humanoid form?) Looks like it to me in the better image, and since there is really nothing else very conch-like about him, such an identificatory emblem would be called for.

Best wishes,

Stefan Baums
Asian Languages and Literature
University of Washington

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