The conch, or shankh, is the most ancient musical instrument known to man. A gift from the great ocean, it is held as sacred and is found throughout Buddhist and Hindu literature. In Buddhism the conch shell is one of the eight auspicious symbols and its call is meant to awaken one from ignorance. In Hinduism the sound of the conch is associated with the sacred syllable 'Om' which is believed to be the first sound of creation. Thought to be the purest form of sound, the call of the conch ushers in freshness and new hope.
The mystical meaning of the conch comes from the legend that it is the weapon of choice for mermaids and mermen and, as such, alludes to strength and fortitude.
The most famous symbolism is William Golding's Lord of the Flies. In this story the conch is used as a symbol of order and civilization, as the sound is used to gather the boys together on the island after the crash separates them. The boys then impose a "rule of the conch" on themselves, reinforcing the shell as a symbol of power and political legitimacy. As order descends into chaos, we are reminded that the tools of power are arbitrary and that crowns and flags are no more meaningful than a shell found in the grass – symbols of authority can only work if people buy into them. Ralph, recognizing this, refuses to blow the conch when he sees that things are starting to break down: "If I blow the conch and they don't come back; then we've had it. We shan't keep the fire going. We'll be like animals. We'll never be rescued". When, in the end, the conch shell is finally crushed, so too is the civilized instinct among the boys.