Nostril piercings have a large significance in the South Asian subcontinent, with a rich history and prominent influence in the modern day.

There is debate over whether nostril piercings originated with the Indus Valley Civilization or in the Middle East. Possible mentions of nose rings in Hindu Scriptures dating back to 1500 BCE indicate roots in the Indian subcontinent. However, many scholars conjecture that nose piercings originated in the Middle East, around 4000-5000 years ago, and Mughal invaders introduced the fashion to the South Asian subcontinent around 16th century AD. 

Regardless of the origins, nostril piercings exploded in popularity in South Asia, partially due to their significance in Hindu traditions. There are a diverse array of reasons a nose jewelry might be worn. As a coming of age ritual, as a symbol of wealth and status, to honor the Hindu goddess Parvati (who is often depicted wearing nose jewelry), to indicate betrothal/to represent subservience and commitment to one’s husband, or purely for beautification, fashion, and wider cultural reasons.

The traditional Indian system of medicine, Ayurveda, posits that wearing nose jewelry in the left nostril can enhance fertility and ease the pain of childbirth, which is why the left nostril is traditionally pierced for many South Asian women. However, this is highly dependent on region, with some (Southern Indian, for example) regions preferring the right nostril, a true testament to the diversity of South Asia.

Different regions in India have their own unique designs and styles of nose rings. For example, the South Indian “Mukhutti” or “Mookuthi” is a large, circular nose stud. In Maharashtra, the "Peshwai Nath” is a large, cashew-shaped nose piercing, worn around the outside of the nostril. The nose chain has a particular significance during Hindu wedding ceremonies.

In Europe and the United States, Émilie Marie Bouchaud (Polaire) and Ethel Granger were two of the first women documented to have nostril piercings in the early 20th century, and they caused quite a splash at a time when piercings were considered taboo. It took until the 1960s for nostril piercings to become popular in the United States. Influence from “hippies” coming back from spiritual journeys in India and Asia, as well as punk and goth subcultures using piercings as a counterculture fashion statement, helped to popularize the look, though piercings were still not mainstream. Today, nostril piercings have become mainstream in the United States.

Sources: Source 1, Source 2, Source 3, Source 4

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