Did Romantic Kissing Originate in India?

For years, researchers traced the practice to ancient Sanskrit texts. Recent evidence suggests that theory might not be the whole story. Or is it?

1971.91 print lovers embracing kiss romantic kissing
Lovers Embracing, c. 1630. India, Mughal Dynasty (1526-1756) (The Cleveland Museum of Art, Andrew R. and Martha Holden Jennings Fund 1971.91)

Sadaf Ahsan


June 7, 2023


7 min

Until recently, the first clear reference to a romantic mouth-on-mouth kiss was in none other than the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, which writers compiled between 400 B.C. to 300 A.D. In it, a young man describes the first time a girl embraces him, and the joy it brings. “[She] set her mouth to my mouth and made a noise and that produced pleasure in me,” he tells his father.

Before that, scientists believed the earliest text referencing kissing-like behavior was from the subcontinent, from around 1500 B.C. If we throw in the Kama Sutra, which describes a vast range of kisses, it’s no surprise that researchers have long believed that South Asia was the source of the romantic kiss, from where it then spread around the world.

However, recent findings suggest that there’s more to this theory. But how did romantic kissing — not really an evolutionary need for procreation — come to be in the first place?

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