Nostril Piercing: Past to Present

The nostril piercing has a long and surprising history. It dates back 4,000 to 5,000 years ago when it was first recorded in the Middle East. In fact, it was brought up in the Bible which is said to be written around the same time. It (piercing the nostril) is mentioned in The Bible in Genesis 24:22 Abraham requested his oldest servant to find a wife for his son Isaac, the servant found Rebekah, and one of the gifts he gave her was a “golden earring” the original Hebrew word used was Shanf, which also translates as “nose-ring” (Morrison).

It was brought to India in the 16th century by the Moghul emperors. The Moghul Emporers most likely spread piercing the nostril from the Middle East deeper into Asia in the 16th century as well. Ever since, piercing the nostrils has become popular with Indian girls and women. In some instances the ring in the nostril is linked, by chain, to a jewel in the ear or jewels in the hair. It is also said that women in India pierce the acupuncture point on the nostril to induce submissiveness.

In Northern India the outside of the left and in Southern India the outside of the right nostril is the preferred position of the piercing as this is supposed to make childbirth easier. This is because Ayurvedic medicine associates this location with the female reproductive organs (Nose Piercing). Sometimes the women of India today pierce both nostrils (DeMello, 2007). Though the left side is most likely to be seen. Having the nostril pierced is also said to make the pain associated with moon time (menstruation) easier to cope with. It is also associated with beauty and social standing. Piercing the nostril honors Parvati, the Hindu Mother Goddess and the embodiment of the total energy in the universe.

Nostril piercing is still followed today by the nomadic Berber and Beja tribes of Africa and also by the Bedouin in the Middle East. The size of the ring is indicative of the wealth and stature of the family. The husband gives the ring to his wife at the time of marriage; this is her security if divorce follows.

Large -gauge nostril piercings are seen in the women of the Apa Tani tribe in the Apatani plateau Jiro in India. The Apa Tani are of Tibetan origin. The dress of the Apatanis is elaborate and colorful, yet simple in style. Tattooing and the stuffing of large nose plugs were once popular among the women, although this practice has gradually fallen into decline in recent years. Originally, this practice started because the women wanted to look unattractive to males from neighboring tribes. Apa tani women were considered to be the most beautiful among all the Arunachal tribes (Encyclopedia > Apa Tani).

By the late 19th century, the Victorian era had made its indelible mark upon society and women’s fashion. Ethel Granger, who was born in 1892, epitomized this look. Except for the native American population of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, women were not pierced (Perlingieri, 2003). Ethel had double nostril piercings as well as many other piercings!

The nostril piercing was brought to the States, in large part, in the 1960’s by hippies coming back from India in search of spiritual enlightenment. From the hippies that came back to the States the punk rock scene picked it up in the late 1970’s as a form of rebellion against dominant culture and conservative values.

It is said that the nostril piercing “made a come back” in the 90’s though I believe it never fell out of the goth/punk subculture. Nostril piercing became more mainstream due to celebrities having the piercing. Janet Jackson and 
Dennis Rodman popularized the nostril piercing which made more people in the US fond of the piercing. Music videos in the 80’s and 90’s were very popular and with celebrities having the piercing it exploded into our mainstream culture.
Today nostril piercings are worn by all genders, all sexes and is not largely defined by class. Nostril piercing is popular in the U.S., UK, Canada, the Caribbean, Australia and Europe with piercings being performed on either the left or right nostril (Nose Piercing). Next to the earlobe piercing, it is the most popular form of piercing today (DeMello, 2007). Nostril piercings are often seen on both sides of the nose and sometimes more than one piercing per nostril. Large nostril piercings have been picked up by the body modification subculture as well.

The nostril piercing, by today’s standards, is very much a classic. Its popularity is obvious in our culture among celebrities, music singers, and the business executive.


DeMello, M. (2007). Encyclopedia of Body Adornment. Greenwood Press.

Encyclopedia > Apa Tani. (n.d.). Retrieved october 25, 2008, from Nationmaster:

Kuchinsky, C. (n.d.). A history of Piercing. Retrieved october 25, 2008, from the Beauty Biz:

Morrison, C. (n.d.). Body Piercing History. Retrieved october 25, 2008, from Painful Pleasures:

Nose Piercing. (n.d.). Retrieved october 25, 2008, from wikipedia:

Perlingieri, B. A. (2003). A Brief History of the Evolution of Body Adornment in Western Culture: Ancient Origins and Today. Eugene, OR, USA: Tribalife Publications.

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