Yes, the kiss—that glorious symbol of amorous and erotic love—originated in India. In fact, the first recorded kiss is found in our ancient Sanskrit scriptures, dating around 1500 BC.
Birds do it, bees do it… even educated fleas do it (and mind you, you and I do it too). Of course, before your overactive mind starts playing erotic tricks on you, let me bring it back on track and tell you that Let’s do it… Let’s fall in love (from where I have borrowed the opening line) is a legendary love song penned by Cole Porter in the 1920s, which became a forever-and-ever love anthem, celebrating the glorious power of amorous and erotic love. If you can look beyond the double entendre of the lyrics (for example, the cock and the doodle), with its subtle and not-so-subtle sexual euphemism, the song deals with the sublime experience of falling in love.
That is the basic premise of this month’s column, but instead of beating around the bush with all the hullabaloo of falling in love, we will redirect all our energies to a singular act of congress—a lover’s kiss. (Note: I know I could have used any of the other hundreds of words/slang terms that also mean “sex”, but I so wanted to use the word “congress”. Let’s change the discourse on intercourse, shall we? And as with everything else in this country, we too begin our “Chai minus Charcha” with congress.)
To the uninitiated, a kiss may just seem like a kiss—two pairs of lips coming together to touch or exchange salivary juices. Or then again, to use a more scientific definition as proposed by Dr Henry Gibbons (1800s), “a kiss is the anatomical juxtaposition of two orbicularis oris muscles in a state of contraction”. (There…try using that as a pick-up line! Go ahead, I dare you!) Of course, as we can gather from his definition, he probably abstained from any juicy exchanges, choosing to keep his prudishly puckered pout tightly closed. This one, clearly, was a “No Entry”.
But look around you, from fairy tales to literature and from paintings to the silver screen, our works of art are replete with lovers locking lips; for in the art and science of romance, there is nothing more powerful than the magic of true love’s kiss. It was thus the kiss that woke up Sleeping Beauty. It was thus the kiss that transformed the ugly frog into a handsome prince. It was thus the kiss that brought Snow White back from the dead. (And it was thus the kiss that had Pahlaj Nihalani reaching for the stopwatch… Sorry folks, for some reason, every time I think of a kiss now, all I can think of is Pahlaj Nihalani. Eww!!)
As is evident, the lore and lure of kiss is interwoven in our biological makeup. We were born to kiss. We were raised to kiss. We were socialised to kiss. Thus, in the world of philematology (the formal science and study of kissing), a kiss therefore becomes a mate selection device in this vast biological marketplace. And here we are…still shopping for the elusive perfect kiss.
When it comes to the origin of kissing, anthropologists are divided into two schools of thought. While one believes that kissing is instinctive and instinctual, that is—a part-n-parcel of our most primal instincts, the other believes that kissing evolved from kiss feeding (a process where mothers transferred chewed food from their mouths to their offspring’s). Then again, whatever each school individually believes, they both are in general agreement when it comes to the myriad benefits of playing some good ol’ tonsil hockey.
According to Andréa Demirjian, author of Kissing: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about One of Life’s Sweetest Pleasures, “(kissing comes with) a number of health benefits. It can literally relieve headaches. (Kissing) puts you in a state of contentment. Moreover, it lowers your blood pres sure, makes your skin glow, fights cavities, burns calories, provides instant facelifts, boosts self-esteem, and makes you feel loved. Not to mention, it is—in the end—the perfect barometer of sexual compatibility.”
So strong is the “healing” postulate of “puckering up” that the ancient Celts decided to magnify the kiss’ special power, by giving the world what is now famously come to be known as the “kissing-under-the-mistletoe” Christmas ritual. (This is because in the ancient Celtic pagan tradition, the mistletoe was viewed as a sacred healing plant with miraculous powers. And when combined with the healing powers of a kiss, the ritual almost became a Christmas miracle.) Therefore, it’s obvious that the numerous health benefits that snogging brings should itself be incentive enough to swap some spit.
Then again, if you’re still looking for some more incentive, well, how about this? In a study conducted amongst the German population and spread over a 10-year period by popular anthropologist Dr Vaughn Bryant from the University of Texas A&M, it was found that men who kissed their wives before leaving for work lived an average of five years longer than those who did not kiss their spouse (and this time, no pun or hen-pecked-husband/dangerous-wife joke intended).
You see, even though a kiss incorporates a rather small surface area of our body, our lips—in terms of sensory neurons—are amongst the most densely populated parts of our anatomy. Hence, thanks to the thin and flimsy layer of skin covering our lips, when we kiss, it literally is an assault on the senses—a carnal onslaught that consumes and devours the mind, body, and soul—unleashing a cocktail of chemicals (such as norepinephrine [adrenaline and noradrenaline], dopamine, and phenylethlamine), literally giving you an adrenaline rush. Hence, during the actual act of kissing, the lips transmit important signals to the brain, which in turn tells the heart to beat faster, the lungs to pump more air, the arteries and veins to dilate, and the organs to get stimulated.
Thus, not only is kissing a cardiovascular micro-workout, the anticipation of carnal conquest does really start with the kiss.
Of course, when it comes to the kiss—the one that trumps them all is the ever-popular “French Kiss”…but like most things with a “French” prefix (such as French manicure and French fries), French kiss too did not actually originate in France. Hence, the myth of the Famous French-kissing Frenchman is just that—a myth. In fact, we ought to now give due where due has long been due, and although Pahlaj Nihalani might just be tempted to censor me for saying this—the credit for French kiss belongs to us—the Indians.
That’s right—the credit for the French kiss actually goes to India.
According to anthropologist Dr Bryant, who has been researching kissing for over three decades, kissing in reality is a Vedic habit. In fact, the first recorded kiss was found in our ancient Sanskrit scriptures, dating around 1500 BC, which spoke of people sniffing with their mouths to express their love, which was said to be the earliest version of kissing. The later Vedic texts, in addition, described lovers expressing affection by “setting mouth to mouth”. In fact, even the Mahabharata contains references to suggest that affection was expressed through lip kissing.
And then, of course, came the most important love treatise of them all—Vatsyayana’s Kama Sutra. According to Dr Bryant, within the Kama Sutra, there are more than 200 sutras (or passages) devoted to an explanation of how one should kiss a lover, including remarks on what response should be made by the one who is being kissed (for example, quivering of the lower lip).
In reality, it is from here that kissing spread to the other parts of the world.
Moreover, according to Dr Bryant, while the Greeks saw the kiss as a symbol of subordination and respect, it was the Romans who popularized the kiss throughout the Western world, with early Christians laying testament to its power by formally institutionalizing the kiss as a wedding custom to formalize a marriage (Literally, “to seal it with a kiss”).
Hence, far from being a European import, he further adds, kissing actually went West from India, after Alexander’s conquest of Punjab in 326 BC.
Therefore, thanks to his diligent scouring of the vast collection of ancient texts (after all, he wasn’t going to find a fossilized kiss under a rock somewhere), we now know that kissing was indeed our special gift to the rest of the world—the long-lost switches to our sexual sonar and genetic radar.
Mallika is a professor-cum-author, doing her PhD in marketing from IIT Kharagpur, and author of three management books which are prescribed textbooks in universities across India. She has taught in India and abroad. She is also the author of the crime novel I’m a Woman & I’m on SALE.