Shells have connections with several cultures and India is one of them. The exoskeleton or hard outer crust of marine animals that is washed ashore during high tide gets studded in the sandy shore. These nuggets from the ocean called shells have been used through History for their artistic worth and supposed magical powers. Shells come in different shapes, sizes and colors and shell collection is not just a hobby but also a profession for conchologists and a livelihood for shell craft artists.
The Indian coast line that spreads across several thousand miles is an enormous treasure trove of shells. Shells have strong links with some Indian religions too. The conch shell for example is closely associated with Hinduism and is used in religious rites.
The abundance of shells in Indian coasts has also resulted in the birth of an art form, shell craft. This is a sophisticated art in which shells obtained from the shore are cleaned, cut and polished to make products of artistic value.
Shells picked up from the shore or those that are brought back by trawlers and fishing vessels are covered with debris and at times contain the dead remains of the animal. Several techniques are used in cleaning shells, one of which is burying in sand to allow the remains of the animal inside to decompose. Shell suppliers also boil shells and clean them using chemicals to remove foul odor and to give shells a shiny luster. Once this is done, shells are ready for use.
Skilled artisans use different combination of shells to create a variety of artifacts. Some popular Indian shell craft items like posters, wall hangings, chandeliers, curtains, table lamps, mirrors, frames, clocks, boxes, buttons, wind chimes, fridge magnets and tooth picks are sold in the local market especially along coastal belts as well as exported. Shells are widely used in making fashion jewelry as well. Bangles, earrings, bracelets, hair accessories, chains and other trinkets made with a careful selection of shells have a good market.
In this way shell craft is a good source of revenue for the country. It has also created opportunities for women and persons with disabilities to engage in income generating ventures.
Shell craft is a common occupation in all coastal areas of India. However Goa, Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep Islands need special mention both for the attractive shells available here and for the ornate shell craft designed by artisans.
To make your own shell crafts, pick up one of these easy to follow instruction books.
Shells (New Crafts)
The Shell: A World of Decoration and Ornament