The White Hindu has moved

The White Hindu has moved! This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at

Friday, September 10, 2010

Diving in Anyway

There are certain things in my life that I have been waiting for with varying amounts of patience. I have been waiting a long time to be married and there were things I set up in my mind as things I would wait to do until that time. Unfortunately, now it just feels like my entire life is on hold and I'm hanging in a closet waiting to get started.

It's tough coming from a community of marrying young and arranging marriage, but living in a society that believes in late marriage and dating for years. I haven't adjusted very well, but that isn't the point.

The point is, I decided to do something that I had not planned to do until I was at least engaged.

In Hindu culture, there are five signs of a married woman (well, approximately, anyway, this can vary by region and community, of course!). In America the wedding ring is gaining popularity in Indian weddings, especially because it is the only sign of a married person recognized in America, but it is not part of the original Indian system.

So, for the western culture, a ring on the third finger of the left hand is the only sign of a married person. Here are the Hindu signs (as far as I understand it, anyway)

1) Mangalsutra necklace. This is sometimes also called a thali, I believe in South India. There are slight differences. A thali is usually a gold necklace with a gold pendent. A mangalsutra is usually black beads also with a pendant.

2) Kumkum in part of hair. Kumkum, or sindoor, is a red powder. During a wedding ceremony, a groom will put it in the part of his new wife's hair. Traditionally, she would do this herself daily. I heard some story that way back in ancient times it was originally the groom's blood!

Here is a picture of the lovely Bollywood actress, Aishwarya Rai (now Bachchan) at her wedding and you can see the red in her hair and the necklace:

3) Silver toe rings on the second toes of both feet.

4) Round, red bindi.

5) Nose piercing

The first three (as far as I know) always mean marriage, but the last two depend. In some parts of India they mean marriage, in some parts they mean you're just more traditional. I've had some people tell me that bindis have nothing whatsoever to do with marriage and other people tell me that a red one is specifically making the point of being married.

So to avoid confusion, I have been wearing a black bindi. When I get married, I will switch to a red one, most likely (though I think black would probably look better on my skin, so I'll have to see).

From what I've read, it is common for girls in India to get their nose pierced when they are engaged or reach marriageable age. The reasoning I've heard most is that Ayurvedic medicine (traditional Indian medicine, there's another post I need to write!) believes that making the hole in a particular spot eases the pain in childbirth.

The nose ring is something that is utterly different in interpretation between America and India.

Here in America, a nose piercing is something that a young person gets to be rebellious and different and to upset his or her parents. In India, it's an ancient tradition that is well respected and they create nose rings that are much more beautiful and elaborate than anything you would get in the U.S.

So in one place it means modern and in the other it means old-fashioned! Isn't it funny how that happens?

I have wanted a nose piercing for many years. I thought they were beautiful from the time I was a teenager and the farther into Indian culture I get, the more I want one. I had a previous boyfriend who hated them and said they look like boogers stuck on your nose. Yuk. So that opinion prevented me for a long time. Then I thought maybe I would get one as a celebration of getting engaged.

But ten years after my first prospective/possible marriage, I'm still not engaged and I've decided that I don't need to find something special to celebrate to do this, so I just went for it.

Today, I got my nose pierced.


  1. congratulation. I also think that nose rings look beautiful.this tradition has nothing to do with marriage. I got my nose pierced when i was seven years old. Many many young girls here have their nose pierced before marriage preferably during their teens.

  2. Oh good :) I also think they look very beautiful.

  3. one more thing= bichua(toe rings) are also worn by unmarried girls nowadays. Another thing is wearing glass bangles is a must for married woman in northern india(U.P., Bihar,Rajasthan,M.p).

  4. I was also discouraged by a past boyfriend to not get one. Since then I've also thought about it, but never enough to really go through with it. Ironically, lately I've seriously wanted one, but not sure how it will fit in with my job. So we'll see, maybe I'll have mine soon as well.

  5. I actually have both nostrils pierced- I had the left side done first when I was about 17 and I had the right side done in my 20's. I've always wanted it done since I was a child and saw photographs of women from India & tribal cultures with it done in the National Geographic magazines my parents got. For me it was definitely more of a 'right of passage' thing for me rather than a rebellious thing. My parents both really love them and my husband thinks I look "weird" without them on the rare occasion that I take them out!

    I noticed in one documentary I was watching that a lot of the elderly women in a certain area of India had their septum (the center part of the nose) pierced - they also had one or both nostrils & wore gold rings in the septum and studs (sometimes with chain connecting to the ear or hair) in the nostrils.

    The only people who usually comment positively on my nostril piercings are Indian women & men!

  6. This is interesting, but it begs me to ask... are there any distinguishing marks or what not to symbolize the man is married?

  7. @kODANDA
    no not that I know of. Even rings (on fingers) are not mandatory by any book for men.But many men do wear a ring.

    For women, red bindi or kunkum(widows wear other colour bindis)on forehead or frank sindoor (in partition) along with bangles and mangal sutra or Tali are more or less a must. It warns other men to keep off...I guess..Surya

  8. just to add quickly, my indian american wife doesnt wear any of the above. She places the mangal sutra at the idols in the puja room. Most likely she doesnt want to stand out at work place, I have no issues with that...surya

  9. To Kodanda: Among those men who wear the sacred thread,They get an additional set of three strands when they get married.that is they get the first set when the upanayanam is done;the 2nd set when they get married ;and a third set when they lose a parent.It was visible in the days when the male attire were only the Veshti[dhothi]and the Angavastram but not now due to the western attire.

  10. Thanks Sita! you, as always, are a tomb of knowledge :)

  11. Very interesting! Thanks for all the comments and the spreading of knowledge, guys.

    I'm so glad I finally did it. I think even in America it is starting to look very normal.

  12. Unfortunately, sitas comments about upanayanam are confined to only a few castes, not ALL hindus.

    Misinformation and consequently confusion gains upperhand when one applies practice of one caste/sect/ denomination as 'overall hindu' tradition. Would be more informative on the other hand to qualify the statement of this kind. If one takes numbers seriously, one would understand that most hindus are non vegetarians and similarly a vast majority of hindu men dont wear upanayanam (threads), for example.

    I read on another western hindus' blog a complaint of 'difficulty in giving up meat' in order to become a hindu. He summarily dismissed majority hindus as unhindu there and then. A classic example of a misinformed new hindu. Both Rama and Krishna, by virtue of their Kshatriya lineage, were non vegetarians. Thatswhy ONLY beef eating was considered unhindu (aas opposed to all meat). Cheers.SURYA

  13. Sita did say "Among those men who wear the sacred thread..." so that is already restricting it by caste. Although I can see why that wouldn't necessarily be clear to some people who are very new to this.

    For some reason, it is easy to latch on to "rules", particularly when a new follower of a religion and get overly insistent that there is only one way to follow it. Obviously, that approach does not work at all for Hinduism!

  14. (I'm only very slowly working through these archives.)

    Thanks so much for this; in a couple of weeks, on my birthday, I'm going to get my nose pierced. I have lots of ear piercings, but this is a big one, on the scale of the decision I made when I got my one tattoo, and it's comforting to hear of other folks doing the same thing!

    (I stick little gold fashion bindis on my nose to try it out before going all out.)

  15. I've been very happy with it. It felt like a huge step to me, but now it just is. I was impatient about waiting for it to heal, though, so don't do that! I love how it looks and I'm really glad that I did it.