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Tradition, Culture, Strength: The Rich History Of Nath & Nose Pins

No matter the culture or era, personal adornment has always been a part of human history. In that rich tapestry, the nose rings - rooted in culture and tradition - feature significantly. So, where did this trend originate, and what is its history?

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Priya Prakash
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SheThePeople Sartorial Series

No matter the culture or era, personal adornment has always been a part of human history. In that rich tapestry, the nose pin and nath (also referred to as nose rings) feature significantly. So, where did this trend originate, and what is the history behind it? In the latest feature for the SheThePeople Sartorial Series, we dive into the fascinating journey of this ornament. 

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Nose pins, in their various shapes and forms, have been prevalent since ancient times. Credited with both aesthetic and symbolic value, they were first recorded in the Middle East over 4,000 years ago. Many ancient cultures, including the Indus Valley Civilization in South Asia, adopted the nosepin as a unique symbol of social and marital status. Nose pins are not simply a fashion statement or an aesthetic choice, but they often represent significant social and cultural markers if we dig deep into the lives of fashion historians

Among the earliest adopters, the Bedouin tribes of the Middle East and North Africa admired large nosepins. For them, these nose pins not only symbolised the wearer's tribal identity and wealth but also served as a form of security in tough times. In contrast, in South Asia, particularly in India and Nepal, women wore small, intricate nosepins as a symbol of their marital status and cultural identity. Fast forward to the 20th century, when the nosepin saw a global resurgence thanks to the bohemian and punk movements of the 1980s and 90s. Today, nose pins are as diverse as the people who wear them, blending cultural heritage with personal style and a resonance of rebellion.

The Significance of the Nath in Indian Culture

The Indian history of nose pins, or the nath, plays a prominent role in the country's rich cultural tapestry. Notably, the tradition of Indian nose piercings seems to have originated with the Mughals during the 16th century, highlighting their interesting impact on shaping Indian cultural customs. Tracing the origins of the Nath, we take a journey back in time, more than four millennia ago, to the Middle East.  The Nath, known then as a "shanf," held significant semantic importance. It made its grand debut in the sacred texts of the Bible as a prized offering—a token of affluent status and prosperity presented by Abraham's servant to Rebekah, who was destined to be Isaac's spouse. 

In Indian tradition, it is customary for parents to have their daughters' noses pierced, often during significant life events like a girl's first menstruation. This practice is observed as a symbolic rite of passage into womanhood. As girls mature, they often adorn their nose piercings with various styles of nose rings and pins, embracing this cultural tradition in diverse ways. 

Ragini Daliya, a journalist, shared her own experience regarding nose piercing, a common tradition in her household marking a girl's coming of age. She recounted, "So nose piercing is kind of a thing in my household, like when a girl comes of her age, they pierce noses... so my mom and aunt got my nose pierced very early on, much to my grandma's dismay like I might have been in 6th grade, and I used to wear a small nose ring all my school years."

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Despite initially embracing the tradition, Daliya revealed a love-hate relationship with nose rings as she grew older. She recalled, "Many girls made fun of it as well. and obviously, I hated it, so I stopped wearing it when I started junior college. Now, years later, I genuinely love it."

Daliya ensured that she wore a Nath on her wedding day. Unfortunately, she accidentally broke it just hours before her varmala ceremony, causing her to feel guilty about the mishap. However, this incident did not diminish her affection for nose rings, she confessed, "Today, when I want to style it for occasions with saris and traditional clothes, I don't have a nose piercing, nor the courage to carry it off. I just use press-ons only, and they hurt like hell, but I still use them because fashion is pain."

Monika Mehra, an engineer who belongs to Uttarakhand, donned a Kumaoni pahadi nath for her wedding ceremony. As a symbol of both tradition and culture, she embraced the Nath as a blessing for the new life's adventures she was setting foot in with her husband. 

Nose Ring

Moreover, in the context of Hindu tradition, these unique pieces of nose jewellery are often associated with a woman's marital status. The distinctive nose pins worn on special occasions are clear illustrations of these traditions. 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.

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The grand Maharashtrian nath or the elegant North Indian latkan, or nathani, are often part of a bride's ensemble in their respective regions. 

In West Bengal, nose pins, especially those worn during special occasions, serve as evident symbols of these cultural traditions. The ornate nose ring, known as "Nath" or "phul," is particularly notable in this regard.

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Iconic Nosepin Moments on Screen

Bollywood connection In India, many actors have sported the nosepin, including Alia Bhatt in Rocky Aur Rani, Deepika Padukone in Baajirao Mastani and Priyanka Chopra's look in Kaminey were iconic, and the nosepin was inherent to their characters. Sara Ali Khan, Shraddha Kapoor, Anushka Sharma and many others have also sported round nose rings for their characters. Parvathy effortlessly embodies the traditional touch in Charlie with her ethnically round nose pin, invoking images of a tiny UFO. Nayantara, in her film Puthiya Niyamam, boldly sports not just one but two nose pins. Other notable names joining in on this cultural trend include Bhama, Sandra Thomas, and Ann Augustine, who are all seen adorning nose pins made of silver, brass, and black metal, reminiscent of the rustic simplicity of India's tribal regions. 

Not just women Ayushmann Khurrana, portraying the character of a homosexual man in Shubh Mangal Zyaada Saavdhan, wore a Nath. His fans immediately fell head over heels for his fresh look. We speculate this might just ignite a fresh trend among men for wearing nosepins.

Unveiling the Fascinating Journey The Rich History of Nosepins

Health Benefits Associated with the Nath

Moreover, the Nath isn't just a symbol; many believe it offers health benefits too. It was believed that piercing the left nostril corresponds with certain pressure points associated with a female's reproductive system. However, there are no scientific documents to support such a claim. 

Returning to history delving deep into the rich tapestry of Indian culture, the Nath, or nose ring, takes on a unique significance influenced by region, customs, and religious belief. For Hindu women, this ornament goes beyond mere adornment, representing marriage and fertility, and entrancingly connects them with the goddess Parvati. Visually represented frequently with a Nath in her deity form as Kanyakumari, her persona comes alive with a radiant diamond nosepiece dazzling from the southernmost point of India.

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Nose Jewellery Beyond Indian Borders

Divya Batra Das, the co-founder of Quirksmith, a renowned brand known for its distinctive and artisanal silver and brass jewellery, discussed the inspiration behind their nose pins and highlighted some of their most popular collections.

She shared, "Nosepins, just like any of my jewellery pieces, are a medium to express my individuality. The inspiration can come from anywhere, honestly. In the early days of Quirksmith, a lot of my designs were based on tribal inspirations as an ode to the warrior spirit in each one of us."

She further explained,  "And hence, in the nose pin designs from the early days, you will find Aztec symbols and warrior symbols (like small cones, arrows, etc.). As the design language evolved, the inspiration also evolved. For example, I did a collection called Mehr-un-Nissa last year, which was inspired by Nur Jahan, the Mughal Queen and 20th wife of Jehangir. She has a special place in Mughal history as a queen who ruled and strategized from behind her veil (Purdah). This collection therefore takes inspiration from Mughal architecture (use of jaali work, domes) and motifs that express Mehr-un-Nissa's life (hence the use of symbols like peacocks and green stones in the nosepin designs)."

As ornaments, nose pins and Nath are more than just a piece of jewellery - they uphold Indian tradition, culture and, most importantly, the embodiment of feminine strength, 

SheThePeople Sartorial Series Naths Rich History of Nosepins Sartorial Stories
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