How commodities or things embody value and meaning has been at the heart of anthropological enquiry. Is the sacred chank (mollusc) merely an economic commodity, a cultural object, an ecological entity or a whole that is more than the sum of its parts? We know that throughout human history, marine animals such as the one we call Turbinella pyrum have shared deep bonds with humans, dictated human fortunes, and wielded tremendous influence on human behaviour or agency.
In the whole world, there was no other place where this chank was present in such abundance as in the seabeds of the Palk Bay and the Gulf of Mannar along the coastal areas of present-day Tamil Nadu and the Northern Province of Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
The fisheries for these animals were aimed at procuring the shell of this animal; the meat was consumed by diver communities. These fisheries supplied chank far and wide, across various parts of the subcontinent for over two millennia, alternating with a fishery for pearls whose fame was worldwide. The fishery was largely state-controlled since colonial times and only recently moved into the hands of licensed fishers.
However, over the last few decades chank are not collected in as much abundance as before. Fishers attribute this to multiple causes, the primary one being fishing by destructive bottom trawling.