Seema Anand’s The Arts of Seduction uses the Kama Sutra and other ancient erotic texts from India as inspiration. Among other things the author talks about the role of ‘ paan’ or the betel leaf in lovemaking and foreplay. An extract: 

Paan and the Arts of Seduction

Paan, says the Kama Sutra, was the transition between foreplay and sex. It was the very last thing that was offered in the games of foreplay—when the beloved felt she was fully aroused; after she had been kissed, caressed, embraced, lovebitten to her heart’s content—she offered her lover paan. It meant she was ready for sex.

If, on the other hand, the beloved was an inexperienced and hesitant lover then the Kama Sutra advised that the man could offer the paan instead. He was to take a bite out of the betel leaf and offer the rest of it to her. This would be the first feel of his lips on hers. If she took the paan from him, it meant she was ready to accept his kisses.

Paan was the ultimate symbol of romance and passion in the history of seduction and there was an entire erotic vocabulary centred around the giving and taking of it—everything that you could dream of and more.

Paan was the ultimate symbol of romance and passion in the history of seduction and there was an entire erotic vocabulary centred around the giving and taking of it—everything that you could dream of and more. Both men and women used paan to send messages—in the absence of text messages and emojis one used paan to communicate with one’s lover. If you wanted to begin flirting, there was a paan for it, if you wanted to romance a lover, there was a paan for it, if you wanted to seduce an ex back—there was a paan for it.

The nuance, the subtlety and the degree of seduction that this tiny little betel leaf could conjure up was as unbelievable as it was delightful—it was seductive without being graphic, delicate without being too subtle, fun without being loud and thoroughly suggestive without being explicit. It was a time when people understood that there was more to seduction than ‘swipe left, swipe right’!

Paan Picture Credit: Wikicommons

Let us begin with the paans of invitation.

‘Desperately in love’—if you wanted to tell someone you were desperately in love with them you would send what the Kama Sutra calls the Kaushal paan. The Kaushal paan had to be made with quantifiable perfection. Each condiment in it had to be placed in its precise spot next to the other; nothing could be placed on top of anything else. The quantity of each ingredient had to be exact. Instead of the sweet paste, one had to use catechu (kathha). Finally, each fold had to be turned down with mathematical precision. This type of paan would be wrapped in four red threads and could only be carried to the lover by a wandering monk. Any lack in the paan would be seen as a lack in love and the lover would be spurned out of hand.

‘Setting up a date’—to ‘hook’ someone for a night of passion you sent an Ankush paan. This paan was shaped like an isosceles triangle with the top corner bent to resemble a hook. ‘I am feverish with excitement at the thought of seeing you’—a Kandarp paan was sent. This was shaped like an equilateral triangle and could only be delivered in the evenings after the moon had risen.

‘I want to sleep with you’—a rectangular paan (the shape of a single bed) was delivered by a very trusted servant. Many a heart has been broken because the person delivering it managed to seduce the lover for themselves!

And, of course, love messages are not one-sided. Lovers must respond as well.

‘Sorry I don’t have the time to see you’—Chaturstra, a square paan.

‘I don’t love you’—a paan without the supari (areca nut).

‘I love you’—a paan with cardamom.

A black thread at any time was a sign of rejection and would have been enough to strike fear into the heart of the lover. But added to that an inside-out paan—the lover might as well be dead!

‘I have absolutely no interest in you, don’t contact me again’—the paan had to be made inside out (with the dark side of the leaf on the inside) and then tied with black thread. A black thread at any time was a sign of rejection and would have been enough to strike fear into the heart of the lover. But added to that an inside-out paan—the lover might as well be dead! ‘I am ready to sleep with you’—two small triangular paans joined at the mouth and tied together with red thread. ‘I get excited telling you in public that I want to sleep with you’—the paan for this message is the same as the one above, but now imagine that you are in a crowded place—close enough to see each other but separated by the crowds. You would put one paan in your mouth, and taking the second one, you would touch your mouth to it and then make a gesture in the air as if offering it to your beloved. It was as intimate and arousing as a physical touch.

‘I am breaking up with you’—this one was positively brutal. You sent a paan that was torn in the middle and tied with black thread.

‘I am ready to spend my life with you’—a paan tied in red cloth.

‘To express overwhelming love’—this was a step further than ‘desperate love’—you sent the aforementioned Kaushal paan but with even more precision. The paan had to be filled with supari that had been chopped into little bits and then stuck together again with sticky paste. Saffron was added to the centre and the outside was coated in sandalwood paste. ‘To get rid of dinner guests’—cinnamon-scented paan.

You have spent the evening in the company of your beloved surrounded by other people—tantalizingly close and yet so far. You have exchanged glances, short conversations, perhaps a quick touch in passing till finally all you can think of is your bodies entangled together in the heat of passion. When you reach this point you offer your guests paan heavily scented with cinnamon. Your guests will get the hint and leave!

‘Let’s end foreplay and begin sex’—when every erotic nerve in her body is tingling, when her breath is short and her love juices are flowing, when she feels she is aroused and desperately needs to feel her lover inside her, she offers him a paan filled with a combination of valerian, jackfruit, camphor, cardamom and cloves, stuck together with ginger paste.

Quince is a highly aromatic fruit, a cross between a pear and a guava and with a reputation for being a love potion.

‘I am a below average lover and I need help’—yes, there was even a paan for inept lovers, for men who didn’t have the ability to satisfy a woman properly, for whatever reason. A paan made with quince was offered to the beloved. Quince is a highly aromatic fruit, a cross between a pear and a guava and with a reputation for being a love potion. It was said that this could bring a woman to orgasm very quickly no matter how rapacious she was, thereby saving the lover the embarrassment of trying to bring her to arousal through means that he was obviously not very capable of. She would leave fully satisfied and his reputation would stay intact.

Seema Anand’s TED talk on ‘The Art of Seduction’ has been viewed more than 7.5 million times. 

Extract published with permission from The Arts of Seduction by Seema Anand, published by Alephbook Company; 208 pages; Rs 399.

Picture Credits: Seema Anand, Alephbook Company

Also Read: All Kinds Of Female Narratives Are Necessary: Usha Alexander

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