Can The Origins Of Kissing Be Traced Back To India?

Can The Origins Of Kissing Be Traced Back To India?

[Note: This was a piece initially published in the light of the 2014 ‘Kiss of Love’ protests in an attempt at incising the issue and asking the questions that plagued us, such as is kissing ‘Indian’? Are public displays of affection against ‘our culture’? Most importantly what does it say about the state of our society in which the idea of violence is almost normalised, but the idea of love is subjected to so much stigma? We turned to history and simple human psychology to find our answers, but you have to admit - you don’t have to be a genius to figure this one out.]

The first ‘Kiss of Love’ protest was started off by a group called ‘Free Thinkers’ in Kerala in the wake of a restaurant in north Kerala’s Kozhikode city being vandalised by volunteers of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (the youth wing of BJP), who were outraged by the ‘immoral activities’ taking place in its premises. 

Marine Drive, Kochi, was supposed to be the site of the very first non-violent protest on November 02, 2014, when not more than 50 youth activists gathered to publicly express their affection. What happened next? Terrorised by the sounds of slurping kisses, thousands of outraged activists descended onto the site of protest to physically separate the activists and prevent them from hugging and kissing. Just the thought is enough to make you cringe, isn’t it?

Right-wing activists spanning religious lines and radical Hindu and Muslim groups all united in secular scandal against this ‘untoward’ display of love. The Kerala police drew first lathis, then eventually went on to pepper spray and caning to disperse the restive crowd, and about 80 campaigners were detained till the evening until tangibly puckered up atmosphere had reverted to more familiar, straight-lipped variety.

A still from the Kolkatta 'Kiss Of Love' Protests. Image Credit - Ronny Sen.

The first ‘Kiss of Love’ protest might not even have made it to its final point successfully, but the initial phase of the movement snowballed from then, spreading quickly over the country to several universities around the country to become a movement against moral policing, even as Shiv Sainiks cried ‘love-jihad’. In Kolkata, the Hokkolorob movement’s slogan evolved into Hokchumban’ (let us kiss) and ‘Amar shorir amar mon bondho hok raj sashon’ (It’s my body, my mind, I won’t allow moral policing). In Central Delhi, scores of hugging and lip-locking activists, mainly from Left-leaning student organisations, gathered right outside the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) office.

In retaliation, a flurry of slogans of ‘Pyar karo par apni sanskriti ke anusar’ (Love but within the limits of our culture) and ‘Pashchimi sabhyata vaapas jao’ (Western culture, go back) were brandished by a right-wing group identifying themselves as the Hindu Sena, because, as Kafila pointed out, it is common knowledge that the Kama Sutra comes from Western culture!

The sequestering of interpersonal touch is something that has only advanced upon civilization in modern times – yes, even in India. Especially in India, because ‘public pleasurable touch, sexual and asexual, is a distinctive feature of Western cultures and non-western societies are far more tolerant of it’. The emotional power of touch has also been emphasised  in science and psychology; our skin contains receptors that directly elicit emotional responses, through stimulation of erogenous zones or nerve endings that respond to pain (Auvray, Myin, & Spence, 2010; Hertenstein & Campos, 2001). There’s also direct evidence that in mammalian species, touch can trigger the release of oxytocin, the hormone that decreases stress-related responses.

Some believe that kissing, as we know it, is instinctive and began millions of years ago among other mammals when mothers fed their young. Later, some believe that human kissing grew out of ancient kissing habits humans inherited from our ape ancestors.
In fact, the researchers who have traced the history of the kiss, have sniffed out its origins and been led ... right back to India. According to Texas A&M University anthropology professor Vaughn Bryant, kissing is not instinctive and in fact, is strictly a learned cultural pattern that’s very recent. 

As he reports, “References to kissing did not appear until 1500 BC, when historians found four major texts in Vedic Sanskrit literature of India that suggested an early form of kissing. There are references to the custom of rubbing and pressing noses together. This practice, it’s been recorded, was a sign of affection, especially between lovers. This is not kissing as we know it today, but we believe it may have been its earliest beginning.”
Bryant argues 
that kissing started in India and spread slowly after Alexander the Great conquered Punjab in c.326 BCE.

As his generals returned to their homelands, they brought kissing with them. About half a century later, the Mahabharata contained references suggesting that affection between people was expressed by lip kissing. Bryant also sees the Kama Sutra, the ancient Sanskrit text on eroticism and sexuality that is considered to be the standard manual on sexual behaviour, as further evidence that kissing began in India due to the large number of references it makes to kissing and kissing techniques.

As right-wing groups fear that sexual anarchy will rear its head, and youth activists persist in drawing lips against lathis, Homegrown burrowed into the ancient scriptures to unearth the nine types of kisses as documented in Vatsyayana’s Kama Sutra.

Perhaps if the extremists were to give this a read, they’d see how much beauty and intimacy can be associated with a kiss.

The Kama Sutra specifies the kinds of kisses given to females and those given to males. Besides the ones described below, there are ‘special kisses’, ‘tongue combat’, ‘the kidding game’, and more such adventurous types of kisses specified in the ancient Indian pleasure manual.

1. Nimitaka – kissing on lips without force.
2. Sphuritaka –pressing against the lips and occasionally touching the cheeks.

3. Ghadtitaka – setting aside the feelings of shyness, the woman pushes her lips into his mouth and kissing while feeling his tongue. The woman blocks his eyes with her hand.
4. Abattitaka – this is rubbing the lips, i.e., when the woman holds the man loosely and rubs her lover’s lips with her tongue

5. Samachumbana –  an Equal Kiss – Staying face to face, the partners’ kiss.

6. Thiryaka – supporting the right side of her head with his left hand, he kisses her lips while his right-hand caresses her.
7. Udbhranta – this is done when one of the partners comes from behind the other. Taking the chin and head, turn his/her head and kiss his/her lips.

8. Abattitaka – this is rubbing the lips, i.e., when the woman holds the man loosely and rubs her lover’s lips with her tongue.

9. Piditaka– Pressing the lips together

10. Panchama Grabana – this is performed pressing the lips very closely, bringing the fingertips together and pressing the cheeks, then pressing the lips together without letting the teeth touch.

All of this being said (and done), the chasm between those accepting of changing customs with respect to physical intimacy, and those desperate to cling onto traditions that clearly didn’t even find a place in ancient India. As the divide keeps widening, only time will tell which side might be consumed in between.

[Inspired By WSJ’s examination of ‘A Short History Of The Kiss In India’] 

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