Intriguing and steeped in tradition, the Nath, or nose ring, is a jewelry piece that transcends time and culture. Across South Asia and the Middle East, it holds a place of significance, symbolizing much more than just ornamentation. Here, we unravel the story of the Indian nose ring, from its historical origins to its diverse styles and meanings.
Historical roots of the Nath
The Nath’s history stretches back over 4,000 years to the Middle East, where it was referred to as a “Shanf.” Notably, it made an appearance in the Bible as a precious gift – a gift given by Abraham’s servant to Rebekah, the future wife of Isaac, symbolizing wealth and status.
In India, the tradition of wearing the Indian nose ring is believed to have been introduced by the Mughals, who arrived from Central Asia in the 16th century. Drawing inspiration from Persian and Arabic cultures where nose rings were common among both men and women, the Mughals brought with them their art, architecture, cuisine, and fashion. The ring soon found its place in India’s diverse jewelry repertoire.
Significance of the Nath
In the intricate web of Indian culture, the Nath carries distinct meanings depending on region, culture, and faith. For Hindu women, it symbolizes marriage and fertility, drawing a connection to the goddess Parvati. Parvati is often depicted wearing a Nath, particularly in her form as Kanyakumari, where a natural diamond nose jewel shines brilliantly from the southern tip of India. Additionally, it is believed to hold health benefits, as it stimulates a pressure point on the left nostril linked to the reproductive system. Ayurvedic texts even suggest that wearing a Nath can ease menstrual pain and childbirth.
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Diversity of Nath styles
The Nath is not a monolithic accessory but comes in a dazzling array of styles, each with its unique charm. For instance, the “Laung” is a small, clove-shaped stud, often made of gold or silver, typically worn on one nostril and favored by North Indian women. “The Phul” is a flower-shaped stud, frequently made of gold or natural diamonds, adored by Bengali women, and usually worn on one nostril. The “Bali” is a hoop or ring, often crafted from gold or silver, sometimes adorned with pearls or gemstones, and beloved by South Indian women, worn on one nostril. The “Nathni” is a hoop or ring with a chain extending to the ear or hair, cherished by Rajasthani and Gujarati women, often made of gold or silver, and adorned with pearls or gemstones. And finally, the “Mukhuttis” is a pair of small studs for both nostrils, commonly worn by Konkani women, often made of gold or natural diamonds.
Nath in Hindu tradition
For Hindu women, the Nath symbolizes marriage and fertility, drawing a connection to the goddess Parvati. Parvati is often depicted wearing a nose ring, particularly in her form as Kanyakumari, where a natural diamond nose jewel shines brilliantly from the southern tip of India.
Nath in Muslim culture
For Muslim women, the Nath is a symbol of identity, pride, and heritage. It’s also a bold fashion statement, and, in some cases, a way to honor Prophet Muhammad, who is said to have pierced his daughter Fatima’s nose on her wedding day.
Nath among the Apatani tribe
The Apatani women of Arunachal Pradesh in Northeast India too wear the Nath. They adorn themselves with large wooden plugs in their nostrils, which are considered symbols of bravery and status. According to local lore, the Apatani women began wearing nose plugs as a protective measure to make themselves less appealing to men from neighboring tribes. The nose plugs are believed to have originated from a legend that says the Apatani women were so beautiful that they had to disfigure themselves to avoid being kidnapped and assaulted by neighboring tribes.
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