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The Sniff-hiss in Ancient India. — By E. Washburn Hopkins, 
Professor in Yale University, New Haven, Conn. 

The fact that kissing is unknown to various races has long 
been recognized. The Mongols, for example, and many Poly- 
nesians and Negroes do not kiss, while the Eskimos are said to 
kiss not as a mark of affection hut only as a prophylactic against 
disease; but the Eskimo kiss is really only an inhalation of 
breath or a sniff, and the practice of sniffing to insure health is 
one not confined to savages. Instead of kissing, rubbing noses 
(called hongi) is the Malay and Polynesian substitute, but 
among the African Negroes it is customary to show affection 
by means of. a vigorous sniff. Thus Miss Kingsley, in her 
Travels in West Africa, p. 478, records that her especial 
Negroes even "sniff frequently and powerfully at the body" 
of a dead- relative, and "the young children are brought and 
held over it, so that they can sniff too." 

Other examples of savage custom in this regard have been 
given by Nyrop in his little book, The Kiss and its History, in 
the last chapter of which he discusses the "Malay kiss," that 
is the nasal salutation, as described by Darwin, Spencer, and 
other observers, including the observations of Timkowski, who 
"writes of a Mongol father that the latter time after time 
smelt his youngest son's head." On the North-east frontier of 
India, as noticed in the work of Nyrop and also in the Things 
Indian of William Crooke, people do not kiss but sniff at or 
smell each other. For example, the Kyoungtha of the Assam 
frontier employ the nose for kissing ; they do not say "give 
me a kiss" but " smell me." 1 Nyrop, however, has nothing to 
say of India proper, and Balfour's Cyclopedia of India, ii, p. 
579, except for a reference to Wilson's Hindu Theatre, states 
only that kissing is unknown to several races on the North- 
western frontier, notably the Karen and Shen races, and . to 
the wild tribes of Arakan in Burma. But Wilson himself 
brings us a little nearer to the Hindu point of view in stating 
that smelling for kissing is " still common " in India. 

1 Crooke, op. 'cit., p. 183. 



Vol. xxviii.] The Sniff-kiss in Ancient India. 121 

We may start with the assumption that there was a primeval 
barbarism to which kissing was unknown, for the reason given 
by Tylor's friend (Primitive Culture, i, p. 63), namely, that if 
people had ever known so agreeable a practice they could never 
have forgotten it ; or, if this is not sufficient, the absence of 
the practice among savages and the cult of kissing among 
civilized people of the highest class may serve as an indication 
of the course of development. At any rate, it is this state 
which is actually represented in the older literature of India. 
The Vedic poets have no real word for kiss but employ instead 
a word meaning "sniff" or "smell." Even the complete 
parallel with the action of animals is recognized in the litera- 
ture, and we are told that after God made his creatures they 
suffered and he comforted them, " sniffing at them" as cows or 
horses sniff at their young. 1 The cow's recognition of its calf 
by means of smelling is even brought into direct relation with 
the sniff given to the new-born child by its father. The 
Domestic Regulations — manuals of family law — prescribe that 
the father shall "thrice sniff at the head" of the infant, as a 
cow sniffs at the calf, and this is coupled with the mystic " doc- 
trine, of breaths," the idea that sniffing at the child "insures 
long life," a doctrine that may be found as far back as the age 
of the Upanishads. 2 Also when returning from a journey a 
father does not kiss but "sniffs at the head of" his children, 3 
and in doing so he shall "low like a cow" ; otherwise he shall 
ignore them altogether ; but whenever he greets them it is with 
a sniff. 4 

1 Compare the passages : ^atapatha Brahmana, 4. 5. 5. 11 ; 5. 1. 4. 15 ; 
13. 5. 1. 18 ; and also 7. 3. 2. 13. Further, Aitareya Brahmana, 1. 7 and 
Tandya, 7. 10. 15. Cattle, it is said, are made to see and recognize by 
sniffing, gat. Brah. 4. 5. 8. 5; 11. 8. 3. 10. " Smell" and "breathe in" 
(sniff) are exchangeable terms, the idea being that " one smells by breath- 
ing in," BAIL 1. 3. 3 ; 3. 2. 2. 

2 Compare on this pqintthe gafikh. House-Rules, 1. 24. 2 ; those of 
Apastamba, 1. 15. 12 ; Paraskara, 1. 16. 10-16 ; Asvalayana, 1. 15. 9 ; 
Khadira, 2. 3. 13. 

3 Parask. 1. 8. 3 ;■ Gobh. 2. 8. 21-22; and Kaus. Upanishad, 2. 11 
("touch" and " sniff at" are here alternate readings). 

4 The earlier rule is given in the Satapatha Brahmana, 2. 4. 1. 14 ; Katy. 
4. 12. 23 (VS. 3. 41-43). Here no greeting at all is recognized ; but it 
does not necessarily follow that none is to be given, only that the earlier 
author did not think it worth while to prescribe a rule. 



122 E. W. Hopkins, [1907. 

Even after a real kiss-word appears, which is not till quite 
late, the word for sniff and presumably the action correspond- 
ing to the word is still used, and what is quite strange, both the 
word for sniff and the word for kiss appear at bottom to mean 
" touch." In a certain early passage the corpse is said to be 
carried past the fire so as to be " smelt " by the flame, but an 
alternative version substitutes "touched" (SB. 12. 5. 1. 13; 
Jab. Up. 4; AB. ?. 2). And just as the origin of sniff is thus 
illustrated by its synonym, so the meaning of the later word for 
kiss, cumb, is shown by its affinity with cup, "move," " touch." 
Moreover, although the "deadly kiss" of a fair maiden 
is not unknown to Hindu folklore, 1 it cannot be supposed that 
kissing was ever regarded as so deadly an operation that 
the same word was also used in the meaning "kill." Yet 
this is another meaning assigned to fcumb. The explanation is 
easy enough, however, if it is regarded as a divergent growth 
from the same radical idea "touch," for words of this signifi- 
cation often take on a grim sense. Thus in Latin, tango is 
also a synonym of kill and our English Bible has "touch " in 
Genesis xxvi. 29, " we have not touched thee," in the sense of 
injure; while "fasten upon," "attack" (attach), and Greek 
a-n-TOfuai all serve as illustrations of the same growth. 

It is seldom that the word "smell," "sniff," is found in its 
original meaning of "touch," so it is important to observe that 
this meaning may be that of Atharva Veda, 12. 4. 5, where it 
is associated with the word mouth. As no one smells with the 
mouth the word may here mean touch, as it probably does also 
in the Rig Veda 1. 185. 5, "touching the navel of the world." 
In the former passage, however, "snuff at with the muzzle" 
may be the sense, if, as is doubtful, the words refer to a cow. 
But the original meaning is sufficiently established by the con- 
nection of this root, ghra, with the Greek xpaw, "scrape," and 
with Sk. ghars, "rub." 

1 An early illustration of the deadly kiss may be found in Jataka 93, 
p. 389 : Here a lion who loves a doe dies of licking her poisoned body, 
balavasinehena tassa sarlram lehitva, and thus points a moral : 
na vissase avissatthe, vissatthe pi na vissase, 
vissasa bhayam anveti siham va migamatukS, 
" One should not trust the one unworthy of trust nor even the one who 
is trustworthy," etc. 



Vol. xxviii.] The Sniff-kiss in Ancient India. 123 

The sniff-kiss is constantly represented as not only a means 
of recognition but also of delight. We have seen cows and 
horses compared with men in this regard, but India adds 
another example, not so familiar to our experience, in the epic 
description of an elephant exhibiting joy at its master's return 
by sniffing at his feet (Mbh. 13. 102. 58). That even in this 
generation people as well as animals are capable of identifying 
others by their individual odor is well known and it is very 
likely to this that reference is made by Kalidasa when he says : 
Savvo sagandhesu vissasadi, 

" Every man has confidence in those of the same smell." 1 

It is not till the close of the Vedic period, some centuries 
before our era, that we find any mention of kissing, and even 
then there is no word to describe the act, only an awkward 
circumlocution. In a supplement to the Satapatha Brahmana 
( = BAIT. 6. 4. 9 and 21), kissing forms part of a love-passage 
between man and wife, where the situation is quite intimate, 
and is described as "setting mouth to mouth." It is important 
as explaining the circumstances in which a kiss is recognized as 
en regie. The husband at the same time strokes his wife, a point 
to which we shall return later. 

The next situation in which kissing is described presents the 
picture of a man "drinking the moisture of the lips" of a 
slave-woman, which certainly implies something more than 
sniffing at her. It is found in the oldest metrical Dharma- 
Sastra, and the action of a man who thus drinks the moisture 
(foam) of a slave's lips is severely reprehended (Manu, 3. 19). 

In the great epic of India, however, we have by far the best 
description of kissing, when a young man thus tells what 
happened to him the first time a girl embraced him. He was 
the son of an anchorite and had not enjoyed a young man's 
usual privileges, so it was -a novelty to him to be embraced, and 

'3ak. p. 68. This is usually translated "has confidence in his own 
relatives," which gives the sense but not exactly, because gandha means 
smell and never means a relative. Smell is frequently used, as in Eng- 
lish "smell of the lamp," to indicate likeness of a sort, in Sanskrit 
rather a remote similarity or even so remote as to be only an imitation. 
Thus one whom we should term a " brother only in name" (not a true 
brother), the Hindu calls " a brother only in smell,'.' not as in our bal- 
lad poetry " Thou smell of a coward, said Robin Hood," but implying a 
negation, a false brother. 



124 M W. Hopkins, [1907. 

he told his father about it, without consciousness of committing 
an indiscretion, in these words: " (She) set her mouth to my 
mouth and made a noise and that produced pleasure in me " 
(Mahabharata, 3. 112. 12). The expression is quaint but the 
description " set mouth to mouth " is identical with that of the 
formal description used above and was evidently the best way 
known at this time of saying "kiss." This is an argument 
against the very great antiquity of the Buddhist Birth-stories 
(Jatakas), for in these tales the later word for kiss, cumb, is 
well known. But there is another bit of historical illumination 
in the usage of the Jatakas. It will have been noticed that the 
sniff -kiss in all the examples hitherto given is an expression of 
affection between members of the same family, more particu- 
larly between parents and children, and that on the other hand 
mouth-kissing occurs between man and woman only. Men do 
not kiss each other on the mouth but on the cheek, neck, or 
forehead, even after the discovery of the mouth-kiss. Even in 
our day in Southern India kissing is a family ceremony confined 
to persons of the same sex, as was observed long ago by the 
Abbe Dubois (chapter xiv). On the other hand, in Vatsyayana's 
Love-aphorisms (ii, 3,) where only kissing between the sexes is 
under consideration, the sniff-kiss is ignored, though every 
variety of real kisses is treated, even including the double- 
tongue kiss mentioned by Plautus, Asin., 3. 3, duplicem ut 
habeam linguam. 

Now in the Buddhist Jatakas not only is the real kiss known 
but it is exchanged between mother and son. Here however a 
distinction must be made. The real kiss is given with the 
mouth, but it may be implanted upon the mouth, head, hand, 
etc. The Buddhist mother kisses her son, but she kisses him 
upon the head, and in addition, as the head is the place devoted 
to the earlier greeting, also " smells his head." 1 

The word cumb in its more modern forms, cum, tsum, and 
sum, has become the regular word for a lip-kiss in Northern 

1 Jataka, No. 532 (p. 328): sisam ghayitva cumbitva, " smelling and 
kissing the head," as the mother embraced, alingitva, her son. In No. 
6 (p. 138), cumb alone is used (roditva sise cumbitva) of a king embrac- 
ing his son, and "kissing his head." Here also, No. 266 (p. 339), sniffing 
alone is used of a hdrse sniffing affectionately at an ass's body (upasam- 
ghamano). 



Vol. xxviii.] The Sniff-kiss in Ancient India. 125 

India but is today still united with "licking" as well as with 
"smelling." In the Lucknow dialect, one says "kissed and 
licked"; in Bengali, "eat a kiss." The usual North Indian 
term for kissing is " tasting a kiss," though, as with us, a kiss 
is also "given," but is quite as often "made" or "tasted." 

If we drew the general conclusion that the real (cumb) kiss 
was unknown in early India and that the sniff (ghra) kiss 
gradually gave way to the kiss-as-we-understand-it, we should 
but put into historical terms the data of Hindu literature. 
There might however be made one objection to such a conclu- 
sion which may be thus formulated. Is it not possible that 
both methods of salutation were known in antiquity but that 
only one happened to be registered in the earliest literature ? 
The one thus registered would naturally be that exchanged 
between relatives, the less emotional sniff rather than the 
amorous lip-kiss. In reply it may be said that amorous situa- 
tions are plentiful enough in the early literature, but for all 
that there is no mention of a real kiss. To be sure, there is a 
word which some translators, ignorant alike of the history of 
kissing and the true meaning of the word, render "kiss," but 
that is only because they see that the situation demands some- 
thing of the sort and they do not know how else to render it. 
It never occurs to them that the literal meaning " touch," 
"lick" "sniff" can apply to an amorous situation, and yet 
these are the meanings of the words. Sometimes one sniffs at 
the beloved object and sometimes one licks the object of affec- 
tion, but neither of these words should be translated "kiss." 
Nor does "approach" justify the rendering "kiss." A few 
examples will make these points clear. 

In the Rig Veda there is a verse cited in a later Brahmana. 
The first is translated by Grassmann and the second by Eggeling, 
and both render the Vedic text as "the bards kiss him like a 
child," whereas the word employed in the original not only 
means "lick" but is the very root of our English "lick," 
namely rih or lih. In this, as in all similar cases, there is only 
the licking which shows a cow's ' affection for her calf or marks 
the action of the Fire-god as he licks the fuel. That this word 
is generalised into a word for caress merely shows the lack of a 
better word for an idea also lacking. 



126 M W. Hopkins, [1907. 

The metaphorical language of the Vedas sometimes obscures 
this point. For example, in one passage we read that the 
"young lord of the house repeatedly licks the young woman " 
and it is not surprising that the shocked translators render this 
as "kisses his bride." Now bride is quite correct; the " young 
woman" is a biide, but lick is the proper word for rih as here 
used, since the young lord is no other than the Fire-god and 
the bride is the oblation poured in sacrifice upon the fire, a per- 
fectly natural word to use in connection with fire licking the 
oblation. So, not to give more examples of the same sort, in 
every case where this word is rendered kiss either by the trans- 
lators or by the lexicons it really means lick and is applied to 
the tongues of fire, cows, or horses, or to licking the inside of a 
vessel. 1 

The fact that the Vedic bards "caress (lick) with song" 
must be kept in mind in interpreting such a passage as Rig 
Veda 1. 186. 7, a very important verse because the word lick is 
here united with a word which has also suffered the same fate of 
having a more modern thought read into it. This is the word 
nas, "go to, approach, caress," and because of this last vague 
meaning often but erroneously rendered as indicating specifi- 
cally a kiss. On the contrary, the word is used particularly of 
women going to their husbands, as it is in the present instance, 
where the obvious meaning is " the songs go to him as wives 
to their husbands," after it has been stated that "the songs, 
like cows, lick (caress) the youthful god." But more impor- 
tant is the fact that still another word derived from this nas is 
also to be interpreted in the same way. This is the word nins, 
which, like others of its ilk, has passed from the meaning "go 
to" to that of "approach, touch, embrace," and is often given 

1 The passages here referred to are Rig Veda 10. 123. 1 ; Sat. Brah. 4 
2. 1. 10; RV. 1. 140.9; 1. 146. 2; 10. 45. 4; 10. 79. 3; and especially 
RV. 10. 4. 4; AV. 11. 9. 15. Compare also Sat. Brah. 6. 7. 3. 2, where 
the words of the Rig Veda in regard to the fire " licking the earth and 
sky " are transferred to the rain-god ; Rig Veda 10. 162. 4, where lick- 
ing indicates the caress of an evilspirit; and ib. 1. 22. 14, where lick 
is used as a general word for caress, ' ' caress with song. " So in VS. 2. 16 ; 
SB. 1. 8. 3. 14. "With the transfer of this word (appropriate to cows) 
to human affections may be compared the use of the word vatsalayati, 
a causative from the notion of acting like a cow toward the calf (vatsa), 
in the sense of " make yearn after." 



Vol. xxviii.] The Sniff-kiss in Ancient India. 127 

the false meaning "kiss," though "greet" is the nearest 
approximation to such a sense to be found in the earliest litera- 
ture. Thus in the Rig Veda 9. 85. 3, the poets are said to 
" sing to Soma (the god) and greet (surely not "kiss") the 
king of the world." Again, ib. 10. 94. 9, the musical notes of 
the grind-stones "greet the steeds" of the god who comes to 
drink the beverage they are preparing. In 10. 76. 2, "the 
call reaches the sky and touches the earth " is the meaning of 
a verse absurdly translated "kisses the earth," as in 10. 92. 2 
"greet the fire" and not "kiss the fire " is the true meaning. 
Of course there are passages where "kiss "is not so absurd a 
rendering, as in 8. 43. 10, where the ray of light is said to 
"touch the spoon's mouth" and may conceivably be thought 
to kiss it; as conversely, in 1. 144. 1, the spoons themselves 
"touch the seat of fire," where also "kiss" is not incongruous. 
Yet a principle of interpretation which allows in passages of 
no value a meaning inconsistent with that necessary in passages 
of great significance, is not one to be relied upon and is in fact 
a source of error. "Touch" leads to "taste" (as English 
"taste" means originally "touch"), and "taste" is a later 
meaning of nins, yet even the native commentator renders the 
word by "approach" rather than "kiss" in some of the 
Vedic passages ; but, as he is of a later age, he tends to make 
the same mistake as is made by scholars of today and sometimes 
reads into the word the later idea. In form, nins is simply a 
reduplicated nas and so etymologically, as was shown above 
means no more than "approach," as has long been recognized 
by Sanskritists. 1 

It is an interesting fact that some English words for "kiss" 
have parallels, etymological and other, in the modern languages 
of India. One of these is the good old English " buss " and its 
learned cousin-word "bass," which as late as Chaucer appears 
as "ba," "Let me ba thy cheke." Those are the Western 
representatives of the Persian and Hindustani words busa and 



1 Compare Bartholomae, in Kuhn's Zeitschrift, 29, p. 483. In addition 
to the examples already given, compare Rig Veda 4. 58. 8, " streams 
of ghee approach the kindling-wood," where nas is translated "kiss" 
by Grassmann. That the same word should mean caress, fondle, flatter, 
and kiss is not strange. Greek ■kotzkv^u means " applaud " as well as 
" kiss." 



128 M W. Hopkins, [1907. 

b6sa, which in the dialects of Northwestern India have gone 
through similar changes and appear today as bus, has, bes, bui, 
bai, and ba. 1 

Another coincidence is that on the Northwestern frontier of 
India the word kus appears in the sense of the German kuss, 
our kiss. This I am inclined to refer etymologically to the 
Sanskrit kus, which has a variant form kus, and to connect it 
with our English "hug." 2 

It should cause neither doubt nor surprise that a word mean- 
ing hug or embrace eventually becomes equivalent to "kiss." 
The Greek language offers analogies. Notably is this the case 
with 7rpocnrTvtr<To/«ii (<rrd/*a). In Homer this word means "wel- 
come" and "address" and "greet" (with a word); then in the 

1 In the form bui this word must be distinguished from bui, " smell," 
not another case of the sniff-kiss, however, since the latter is a corrup- 
tion of budh (baoide) "perceive." The Latin basium, from which 
English bass, ba, are derived, is not early Latin, and is probably a 
soldier's or trader's word brought from the East, rather than, as some 
have supposed, a word imitative of the sound of kissing. English buss 
is old German bus (used by Luther) and has been derived tentatively, 
but too hastily, I think, from a Celtic word for mouth (Johansson in KZ. 
36. 355). It is curious that maccha, a Hindu word for kiss, is almost 
identical with the word for fish, and that the symbol of Love in India 
has been for a long time a fish, as if there were a play upon a word not 
easily symbolized in any other way. But it is perhaps more probable 
that maccha, like English " smack " (a blow or a kiss), is an imitation of 
sound. Dr. Grierson, the learned editor, of the Linguistic Survey of 
India, in which will be found the forms cited here and below (Survey 
of the N. W. Frontier), has been kind enough to furnish me with two 
Hindustani baby-words of the same sort. These are "babbi" and 
" bukki," meaning kiss, and apparently used as imitative words. 

2 In the same way, perhaps, " gaf t goft," translated "embraced and 
kissed," may revert to gava, "hand, hold." It is interesting to see that 
cumb appears in the border-land vernacular not only as cum but also as 
cup (transcribed tsum and tsup), as if still preserving its connection with 
Sk. cup, " touch." As for kus, it would correspond to Sanskrit kuksi 
and kosa, the root appearing in double form, as kus and as kus (cf. MS. 
1. 4. 13 and Nir. 1. 15, cukosa). The Pushto kush-al (cf. kar-al, " doing") 
has shorter forms, but the word is always differentiated from khashdli, 
"merriment,' - which comes from a different root (compare Horn, JVew- 
Pers. Etymol., No. 508). The short forms of kush-al will be found scat- 
tered through the pages of Ling. Surv. N. W. Frontier, pp. 38, 46, 178, 
184, 267, 288, 298, 309, 330. JSCus : hug : : kalya, : hail, and ku<5 : hup : : pas : 
fiigren. 



Vol. xxviii.] The Sniff-Jciss in Ancient India. 129 

drama it is associated with "mouth," and becomes "kiss." 
We may compare also the use of other Greek words, such as 
dcnra£o/iun, Trpoo-fioXrj, a[n.<j>nriTrT<i), etc., which are associated with 
and eventually express kissing. The close approach of the 
meanings of Greek c£tA.eiv and Sanskrit jus is also to he noticed. 
The latter (German kiusan, Latin gusto) means, as a middle and 
causative verb, "take delight in," liebkosen, and the Vedic 
poet says "Delight in our song as a lover delights in his girl," 
Rig Veda 3. 62. 8 (cf. 52. 3). This brings us close to <£i\etv 
"love," and <t>i\r)i>ux. "kiss," but not quite so close as the 
Rajasthani equivalent of this very Greek word <f>iXr]ixM brings us, 
when piar, Hind, piyar, containing the root of <f>i\-qfm, is also 
"love" and "kiss." 1 

Before examining the substitutes for kissing recognized in 
ancient India, it would be worth while to inquire whether the 
results thus far gained from our study accord with the evidence 
found not among savages but among other Aryan peoples. The 
Romans, of course, had the mouth-kiss, as is shown by the 
word osculum, "little mouth " ; but it must be remembered that 
Roman civilization is comparatively recent as contrasted with 
that of Greece and India. Kissing on the mouth seemed to the 
Greeks rather an Oriental custom, and Herodotus says that the 
Persians thus saluted social equals, while inferiors received a 
cheek-kiss (Hd. 1, 134). Now among the ancient Greeks of 
Homer's day there was real kissing; but no case of kissing on 
the mouth is recorded either in the Iliad or the Odyssey, 
although people are spoken of as kissing the hands, knees, 
shoulders, and eyes. 2 

As to the method of salutation among the ancient Celts and 
Germans we know nothing at all, 3 so that there is no strong evi- 
dence against and some' evidence in favor of the theory that the 
Indo-Europeans were originally without the benefit of kissing, 
and like so many other savages smelt or sniffed as a sign of 



1 Ling. Surv. N. W. Frontier, p. 14. 

9 It is possible that kissing on the mouth was reserved for amorous 
passages. No women are kissed at all in Homer's poems ; but this latter 
fact would seem to make the assumption improbable, since amorous 
passages are not lacking. Prof. Seymour's forthcoming Homeric Age 
gives all the necessary data on this subject. 

s Compare Schrader, Seal-Lexicon, p. 813. 

vol. xxviii. 9 



130 E. W. Hopkins, [1907. 

affection, perhaps with the idea of inhaling the spirit or soul of 
the beloved, or possibly because, with keener nerves and beast- 
lier joys, it really was a pleasure to smell the object of recogni- 
tion and affection. That phase of the question must be left to 
others more familiar with the interpretation of such problems, 
and they perhaps will also be able to say what is the origin of 
the true mouth-kiss, whether tasting or biting or licking. 
Love-bites are frequently referred to in Sanskrit literature. At 
a late date the Hindu poets refer to kissing of the lips as the 
drinking of honey. Thus the king in the sixth act of the 
drama of Sakuntala, at a time when real kisses were given, says 
to a bee: "O bee, if thou touchest (kissest) the dear one's lip 
once drunk in feasts of love by me," and at a still later date 
"lip-drinking" is a poetical paraphrase for kissing. It is 
important for the estimation in which kissing was held to 
remember that on the Hindu stage everything of an unaesthetic 
sort was strictly forbidden. So no murder may occur in sight 
of the spectators, and there may not be exhibited any scenes of 
"scratching or kissing." But, although kisses are not given 
on the stage, they may yet be referred to, and so the king in 
the drama just cited speaks of the fact that he did not "kiss 
her (the heroine's) mouth," using the now familiar word cumb. 
In the literature of the middle period, between that of the 
Vedic age and that of the dramatic period, say about the 
second or third century B.C., the sniff -kiss is still closely con- 
nected with the embrace of affection. "The king, delighted 
and full of affection, sniffed at his son's head and embraced 
him," is a passage of the great epic which illustrates this point 
as well as the following words: "Filled with the greatest affec- 
tion, Kunti sniffed at the head of her daughter-in-law, while 
Krishna (another female relative) embraced her." Also when 
two men part they embrace and may sniff at each other, if 
closely connected; but the more respectful salutation is to bow, 
circumambulate (to the left), and. kiss the feet. Sniffing at the 
head and embracing is part of a fond mother's farewell. Inci- 
dentally it may be observed that besides bowing with the 
head (either with or without the hands "in lotus-formation" 
pressed to the brow), the early salutation consists in "bending 
the knee," a greeting as old as the Vedic age. The right 
knee is bent by an inferior but important person, the left by a 



Vol. xxviii.] The Sniff-kiss in Ancient India. 131 

lowlier one ; both knees by the lowliest ; and to this was added 
prostration as a sign of greatest humility; but to the glory of 
the Aryan be it added that he never prostrated himself, even to 
his gods, till long after he became a victim to the enervating 
climate of India. By the time of the epic poetry there was 
even ' ' the prostration with eight members " in distinction from 
the less humble " five-membered prostration." 1 

As the examples have shown, the sniff-kiss is preeminently the 
token of family love and chaste affection given by a friend to a 
friend of the same sex or by older people to children. Unfa- 
miliar, and even to our minds somewhat disgusting, the pleasure 
derived therefrom is no matter of theory, as witness such an 
incidental (and hence the more valuable) statement as this from 
the great epic: 2 "Men who have gone to another town rejoice 
when children (sons) climb to their lap (hip) ; and they sniff lov- 
ingly at their heads." When the great hero Arjuna greets his 
beloved son, who has died and been resurrected, he thus 
embraces and "sniffs at his head." A typical case may be 
found in another place, where a king gives permission to his 
nephews to depart and embraces them. They then get leave of 
the queen and embrace her feet. Finally their mother sniffs 
at them and embraces them (this means that she puts her hands 
about their faces or her arms around their necks), and they again 
circumambulate the king, being careful to keep the right hand 
toward him, as a last token of esteem. In the bitterest sorrow, 
a bereaved widow is represented in epic poetry as sniffing at the 
corpse of her dead husband, the bereaved mother as sniffing at 
the body of her son slain in battle, and, exactly like the negroes 
described by Miss Kingsley, the mourners even sniff at the 
face of the dead. 3 



1 On these points and for an account of the curious crossed-legged 
kneeling of a king at his inauguration, known as "making a lap," the 
following passages should be consulted: Mahabharata 1. 74. 120: ib. 
221. 21 and 22 ; ib. 14. 53. 2 (52. 30 and 53); Ramayana, 2. 25. 40 ; gat. 
Brah. 2. 4. 2. 1 and 2 ; Ait. Brah. 8. 6 and 9 ; and the Rig Veda, 1. 72. 5 
and 10. 15. 6. 

2 Mahabharata, 1. 74. 61. 

3 Compare the scenes in the great epic at 14. 80. 56 ; 15. 36 (to verse 49) ; 
and for sniffing at the face, vaktram upaghraya, ib. 11. 17. 28 ; 20. 6. A 
note on how a child is carried may be of interest. Above I have trans- 
lated " climb to the lap" ; this is literally "to the hip." But the child is 



132 E. W. Hopkins, [1907. 

When Medea parts in despair from her children she exclaims, 
"O delicate skin and sweetest breath of children." The 
Hindu, from the earliest times, expresses his appreciation of the 
touch of the beloved object, whether wife or child. And con- 
versely, not the father's and husband's kiss but his delightful 
"touch " it is which causes a joy in son and wife so deep as to 
produce swooning. 1 The touch is actually described as a 
"taste" and " having a sweet hand-taste," hattharasa, describes 
a woman pleasant to touch (cf. Jat. 34 and 146, Introd.). Nor 
is this all. The "son-touch" gives the greatest joy as part of 
the process of sniffing at the child's head (Mbh. 1. 74. 120) ; 
but without sniffing the stroking of one who is loved is spoken 
of in the same way. Thus in the Introduction to one of the 
Buddhist Birth-stories (No. 158) two brothers are represented 
as expressing their joy at meeting again by "stroking each 
other's hands, feet, and backs." Or let us take another tale 
from the same collection of stories, which must reflect the 
normal expression of a real sentiment. In Jataka, No. 381 (p. 
395) a king wishes to express his love for his wife who is ill. 
He neither kisses nor embraces her, but " sits by her couch and 
strokes her back." 

As early as the Rig Veda, "touch" thus expresses caress, 
not only in the "kindly touching (curative) hand" (10. 60. 12 ; 
cf. ib. 137. 7), but also in the verse (1. 62. 11): "The songs 
touch thee as loving wives touch a loving husband," a passage 
which illustrates as well the "caressing with song" already 
referred to^ So "touch the heart" and "touch him near" are 
familiar Vedic expressions. They answer to the Latin use of 



not always carried so. A little son is held in the lap by father or by 
mother; one "sets a dear son in one's bosom" (a suckling, of course, 
" to the breast ") ; but older children are carried either on the shoulder, 
or, commonly, on the hip, even when the bearer is a man. In Jat. No. 
74 (p. 328), " took their children in. their arms " is an erroneous transla- 
tion of what should have been rendered "by the hand," hatthesu 
gahetva being like gfvasu gahetva "taking (each other) by the neck,'' 
in No. 146 (p. 497), the latter expressive of grief ; cf. balahasta, and, for 
references to the carrying of children, RV. 10. 69. 10 ; BATJ. 6. 4. 24 ; 
VS. 29. 41 ; &B. 6. 8. 2. 3 and ib. 9. 2. 3. 50 ; also (in order) RV. 9. 101. 
14 ; Jat. No. 509 (p. 474) ; No. 196 (p. 127, last line) ; No. 250, and No. 538, 
p. 3. 

1 " Touch with affection till one swoons with joy," Ait. Brah. 8. 20 ; 
cf. Sat. Brah. 12. 5. 2. 8. 



Vol. xxviii.] The Sniff-kiss in Ancient India. 133 

mulceo for blandior in Horace, Carm. 3, 11, 24, puellas Car- 
mine mulces, and as mulco "maltreat," stands to mulceo, so 
the same root in Sanskrit means "caress" and "injure," both 
being derived from the simple notion of touch, as applied for 
good or for evil. Only in the earliest literature the touch- 
caress or embrace is not an accompaniment of kissing, as it is 
later, both expressly and implicitly (as when, in the great epic, 
3. 269. 22, it is brought into direct connection with the word 
"face": "Let no one touch your 'dear one's lovely face"); 
but it is associated with "heart" or with "body" only (Rig 
Veda, 8. 96. 11). 

But it must not be supposed that kissing, although so well 
described in epic verse, is often mentioned there. On the con- 
trary, although amorous scenes of quite unblushing naivete are 
by no means infrequent, love-tokens are rarely of this sort. It 
is not at all probable that the later canons of dramatic propri- 
ety obtained for centuries before they were formulated, or that 
the epic poets anyway felt themselves restrained from indulg- 
ing in descriptions of osculatory delights. The reason why 
kissing is so seldom mentioned in love passages is partly histori- 
cal, partly racial. The historical difference may be expressed 
thus : a sniff-stage, or a sniff-and-lick-stage, preceded the stage 
of osculation. • In the latter, the stage represented by the 
drama, and better still by the later Gita Govinda and other 
erotic poetry, sniffs are rare and kisses are common. But, at 
the same time, there was also a geographical distinction which 
is recognized by the Hindus themselves. For there came at 
last a time when kissing was reduced to a science and the sniff- 
kiss was no longer known, or known only to be sniffed at, so 
to speak. The author of this Hindu ars amatoria discusses the 
kiss in all its bearings and speaks of it as if it were the natural 
expression of amorous passion. Yet at the same time he recog- 
nizes that kissing is not everywhere the custom. "The women 
who live in the middle district," he says (meaning thereby the 
country east from what is now Delhi to Allahabad, and south 
from the Ganges to the Vindhya mountains), "chiefly Aryans, 
are refined and hate kissing . . . and so do the women of Balkh 
and of Avanti - } whereas the women of Malava and Abhira love 
kisses." So says Vatsyayana, the author of the native Science 
of Love; but another author, Suvarnanabha, cited by Vatsya- 



134 E. W. Hopkins, The Sniff-kiss in Ancient India. [1907. 

yana, adds the caution that "individual character is more 
important than popular custom." Thus we are left to imagine 
that even some of the more .refined Aryan ladies submitted to 
an occasional kiss. 

Nevertheless, racial and geographical differences cannot 
wholly account for the historical facts presented by the litera- 
ture in both positive and negative form. -First comes the sniff - 
kiss, the only kind of kiss recognized till a late period, the end 
of the Vedic age. Then comes the real kiss, and as the latter 
grows popular the sniff -kiss declines until it finally almost disap- 
pears. But we may admit that, as among the Japanese, there 
were some who did not like to be kissed, and for this reason 
after kissing was known we occasionally find love passages with- 
out any description of kissing. For example, in the great epic, 
withal in a late section of the poem, 1 there is a very vivid and 
unabashed scene, where "amplexus atque osculans " would 
naturally have made part of the description. A distracted 
woman is here entreating a man to show her some token of 
affection. "I am very love-lorn for you," she cries, and "with 
love she hid him in her arms," exclaiming, as she embraces him, 
"embrace me also," but there is no hint of kissing, though 
"she had a pleasant hand " (touch) and the "pleasure of her 
hand" is especially mentioned. Yet this is long after kissing is 
customary. The explanation may be that given by Vatsyayana, 
for the woman here is not only Aryan, she is of the highest 
Aryan caste. 

1 Mahabharata, 18. 19. 79 ff.