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The Nath: Traditional Indian Nose Ring

The Nath: Traditional Indian Nose Ring

The nose is generally thought of as an organ exclusively used for smell and breathing. But in India, the nose also carries some emotional, sexual and romantic connotations within the context of Indian culture.

The Nath: What and Why?

The Nath, or the nose ring is an essential part of the look of the Indian bride. Almost always made of gold, which is considered the purest metal, the nath is usually worn on the left nostril. A bride usually wears this supported by a gold chain, which is either attached to a lock of hair behind the left ear (for additional support in case the nath ornament is heavy), or to a part of the left earring. Other family celebrations – such as the birth of a child, religious occasions and the celebration of other festivals also merits the wearing of the nath by married women. The nose ornaments come in two forms: the nath (a ring) or a phul (a simple stud). In some regions, both nostrils are pierced.

Amongst all the jewelry and adornments for various parts of the body, the nasal ornaments are believed to be the most alluring and seductive. According to Indian matrimonial traditions, a nath is also the symbol of a bride’s virginity. So much so, once a virgin is deflowered, it is symbolically referred to as the removal of the ‘nath’ in most parts of the Indian subcontinent. It is believed that the oldest vedic script that refers to medicine, the Ayurveda, associates nasal piercing with female reproductive organs. It is believed that nose ornaments have scientific benefits for the women who wear them. Apparently, piercing the nose to wear nose studs or rings protects the women from myriad nasal infections as well. A nose piercing is supposed to make childbirth easier and reduce cramping and discomfort during menstruation. The left side is the most common to be pierced in India because that is the spot associated in ayurveda (Indian medicine) with the female reproductive organs.

Piercing & Variety of Jewelry

Experienced goldsmiths are relied upon for piercing the nose or ear. These professionals can know, simply by touching the skin, whether or not any nerve passes through the specific portion to be pierced. The important thing is that while the ear or nose is being pierced, it is very important that no passing nerve is wounded or harmed in any way, hence much care has to be taken for piercing.

In India, nasal ornaments are available in a variety of designs and shapes – from delicate jeweled studs that are placed just on the curve of the nostril, or large hoops that encircle the cheek with dainty charms or pendants or just pearls dangling in a way that they just touch the upper lip line. The Maharastrians wear a larger mango-shaped nose ring, decorated with heavy pearl that hangs down to the chin!

Across the length and breadth of India, as an integral part of traditional matrimonial jewelry, many aristocratic families have heirloom naths worn by the bride during weddings or by a newly married woman on special occasions. Depending on their wealth, they decorate this ornament with costly jewels or precious stones. The size of the nath also determines the socio-economic status of the family of the bride.

In diverse states of India this jewel is made differently. The nose ornaments of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are called mukhuttis and the ones worn by brides during a vivaah have ornate, traditional designs imitating the lotus flower and the graceful swan. These ornaments are usually studded with precious or semi-precious stones, depending on your financial and socio-economic status. While diamond is the gem of choice – keeping in mind its purity, the topaz is also preferred by those who cannot afford diamonds. Women in Rajasthan wear the nathuri, which is a small gold or silver ring with precious stones and the bhauriya has a slightly different floral design. The laung is a traditional and common nose stud that is shaped like a clove, while a Iatkan is a small pendant suspended between the nostrils, because of its pendulous character. In Uttar Pradesh, the nath is adorned with two pearls and a dangling bead to signify multitude and prosperity. The Punjabi bride wears the shikarpuri nath – a gold ring strung with as many as 20 to 25 motifs or charms – including tiny birds, mangoes, leaves, florets, pearls and so on. Pullakku is a type of nose ring seen mostly in South India (bulaag in the North). This is basically the pendant suspended from the partition of the nostrils – the portion extending from the septum.