Nose Rings

Although the Muslim cultural contribution to local Tamil society has not been very significant, the introduction of nose ornaments is notable. No ornament on the face of the earth enhances a woman’s allure so much as a nose ring or stud. As such this is a very important contribution of Muslims to feminine culture. As shown by Dr. A.S.Altekar in his Position of Women in Hindu Civilization (1938), nose ornaments were unknown in India throughout the entire Hindu period and was clearly borrowed from the Muslims. In fact, nose ornaments are attested among st Muslim peoples, especially Arabs, for several centuries. For instance, Sir Richard Burton in his Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah (1893) refers to the Bedouin women of Arabia wearing nose-rings. The Qashqadaria Arabs of Central Asia believe that nose rings were worn by their ancestress Hagar, and that Abraham was so charmed with them that it became a tradition among Arab women. Especially interesting in the local context is a horde of jewellery excavated in Anuradhapura in the 1940s which included a lady’s nose ornaments in association with a necklace with gold coins in Arabic characters struck in the name of a tenth century Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad (Report on the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon for 1946. Senarat Paranavitana. 1948).

Yoga Vallipuram (Traditionally Yours. Times of Ceylon Annual 1964) tells us that the mookuthi or nose stud in shapes like crescent moon or star was once considered an essential ornament for married Tamil women. “Today” she says “only girls brought up in orthodox families have their noses pierced for these studs”. She adds: “But if today’s bride does not wear the mookuthi, she certainly does the tiny droplet called pullakku which hangs from the end of her nose, just above her lip”.  Vallipuram’s reference to the pulakku or nose-pendant is interesting as both the name and form of the ornament suggests an Arab origin. Captain F.M.Hunter (An Account of the British Settlement of Aden in Arabia. 1877) refers to the Bulakh which Arab women wear as “a flat gold crescent, chased and stamped, studded with pearls, having a fringe of pearls on the outside; it is worn suspended from the central membrane of the nose by a semicircular wire which joins the horns of the crescent”. Thus it can easily be deduced that thepulakku worn by local Tamil women had its origins in the bulakh of Arabian women, especially since we know that the Tamil language turns an initial b into a p when borrowing from foreign languages.

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