In Western countries, getting your nose pierced is generally done because you think it looks cool, is trendy or as a small sign of rebellion. Body jewelry in general is not something we typically associate with tradition or respect. Most piercings, in fact, (with the exception of earrings) are looked upon negatively in a professional setting. In India and many other Asian and African cultures, however, that is not the case. Getting your nose pierced is seen as a symbol of traditional culture – it actually is semi-rebellious and modern to NOT get it done. When I came into work yesterday, one of the men laughed and said Indians are always trying to be more modern, and you come here from the USA to be more traditional! I laughed. The whole concept that I came to a foreign country without any family or friends is incomprehensible to some of them, and they look at me as a strange, friendly, little anomaly – but that is a story for another post.
Nose rings arrived in India from the Middle East at some point during the 16th century. They are generally associated with Hindu, but other religions pierce their nose as well. Most people get the left side of their nose pierced but some stricter beliefs get both sides done. According to an ancient traditional medicine god, the left side of the nose is associated with fertility and childbirth. Getting the left side pierced is said to make childbirth less painful for a woman. Girls generally got their nose pierced around the age of 16, which meant they were “of marriageable age.”
There are many different types of rings and studs adorned with gemstones and lavish decorations. The types which are the most popular depend on the region of India. The general rule of thumb (which stands for all jewelry) is the gaudier, the better. I was laughed at when I asked for the smallest stud they had. Silly little American. It turns out this idea originated hundreds of years ago for good reason. When a woman would marry a man, all of her positions would become his except for her jewelry. Families would by lavish jewelry for the bride as a type of private savings account. Pretty cool!
Nose piercings can typically be done at any little roadside jewelry stand; they pierce your nose by hand with a needle. I was looking for a slightly more Westernized (and sanitary) approach and asked around to find shops with a piercing gun. When I walked in, I saw the jeweler piercing a teenage girl’s ears with a gun and thought Whew. He even wore gloves and washed his hands. It was at this point when I subconsciously decided I’d investigated thoroughly and no longer needed to be on high alert. I immediately began chatting with other people in line. When it was my turn, I was still chatting and not paying too much attention to the jeweler – he hadn’t yet gotten out the gun so I figured he must not be ready. All of a sudden, he told me not to move and forced the pointy end on the back of the stud through the left side of my nose. He fumbled around to get the back on and laughed when I asked about the piercing gun. “You wanted gold,” he replied. “The gun doesn’t work with real gold. Only these,” which he showed me a box of plastic little rods. Oh well. It was an experience.