What young woman doesn’t look at her belly and think that a pretty diamond, barbell or even a flower would make it prettier? Whether she already has pierced ears or not, it’s almost a natural leap to jump from dangling something from her lobes to adorning her flat belly.
In western culture, a quick way to annoy your parents, whether you are a young man or woman, is to pierce your navel. You will hear every argument against it. The common two persuasions are that only girls who are trying to sexualize themselves too early do it and that only “deviants” mutilate their bodies in this manner.
Long associated with thugs, strippers and other wayward types, many believe this is a new trend that spawned in the 20th century, just to aggravate middle-class, hard working moms and dads.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Although there is common misconception about its origins, this “trend” is several centuries not decades old.
One common belief is that navel piercing started in ancient Egypt (3500 BCE – 100 BCE) and was exclusive to statuaries. While on the face of it, this explanation could have some merit, given the mystery and beauty of Queen Cleopatra, it seems that a more plausible one is that navel piercing stems from India and the Gupta Empire (320-550 BCE), far more recently. Drawings in the marriage guide Kama Sutra (2nd century CE) support this theory. Lacking any physical data supporting the earlier assertion, this author is more comfortable citing the latter as being more likely.
Body Piercings in India – Practicality that Turned into a Tradition of Beauty
Both for purposes of adornment and as a means of keeping the “family jewels” safe, women in India have been decorating their bodies with semi precious and precious stones for at least five centuries, and likely longer. Its roots date back to a time when their husbands traveled frequently for work. Gone for long periods of time, if ill fate should befall her betrothed, the wife, who of course didn’t work, could have a means to support her family and her. On each toe, each finger, in her navel, each ear and in her nose was her insurance that her family would never starve.
Rich, poor, whether she’s a Brahman or a Sudra or some place in between in the Caste System, chances are good that she has at least a nose ring and quite likely one in the navel as well. This is not a tradition relegated to a specific class, but rather one you’ll find throughout the country – most particularly those who practice Hinduism, the predominant religion.
Today, between banks and safes, she needn’t wear every piece of jewelry she owns. However, it’s not uncommon to see women both in India and those of Indian descent living outside the country, continuing this tradition. Fewer things are more sensual than seeing a woman dressed in a saree (also expressed as sari), adorned with a jewel in her navel, a tinier version in her nose and two in her earlobes.
So, the next time your parents tell you that only girls trying to emulate Britney Spears or the girl in your town that everyone assumes to be a stripper or worse, tell them that it’s a rite of passage in India. Although it might not persuade them, they may, if only for a moment, realize that although relatively new in the United States, the association with deviant behavior has no relevance.