He, at once gave an order to his soldiers to clean the whole place using water. This made the place completely a mess with water and mud flooding throughout the place. This mess provoked him to take the drastic decision of sweeping his whole kingdom.
After this exercise by the soldiers, the whole kingdom was full of dust. Holding discussions with the minister, it was then that they came up with the simplest solution, footwear.
Anyone reading this could immediately conclude that this is just a fictitious story. Well, yes, indeed it is. This story made me curious to know about the right story or rather the right history behind footwear in India.
When I tried to search for the right history behind footwear, the first evidence that dates back to Ramayana is the Paduka (a divine name to footwear in Sanskrit) of Sri Rama (one of the 24 incarnations of Vishnu that you can read in this article) of being worshipped by his younger brother Bharata.
Names of Footwear in different languages in India
Digging a little deeper into the matter, I found out, that there are several names for footwear in different languages of the country. They can be as follows:
|2||Juta or Juti||Urdu|
The references for these are made in the following different ancient texts of Indian literature.
- Classical Sanskrit Literature
- Sangam Tamil Literature
Moreover, these records are also depicted in some beautiful art forms of India. On the other hand, the main places that have been taking the responsibilities of manufacturing footwear are rural places. So, it has been a combination of classical literature along with the folk literature where we can find fine details on footwear.
Literature and Footwear in India
People from different walks of life used footwear of different types. This is studied using our literature, their references. Let us find out what different sects from different communities used footwear like.
As discussed in the earlier sections of the article, we have seen that footwear was referred to as “Upanah” or “Upanat”. There is a reference to this right from the Vedic age. It is said to have been identified in the following ancient texts of Sanatana Dharma, also called as Hindu Dharma.
- Yajur Veda
- Atharvana Veda
- Panini Grammar
These mentions have been a witness that footwear was used in ancient times from time immemorial.
If we carefully look at the two words, Upanah and Paduka, there is a definitive difference between the two. We will look at them in the following table:
|1||Upanah||Show that covers the whole foot|
|2||Paduka||Sandals or Chappals that has a strap on the sole|
This will make them clearly distinguishable in their references to both of them. While the Upanah were used by the common people of India, the Padukas were mostly used by the monks or ascetics. Padukas, from the Mahabharat times, has been used that has a knob and was the simplest form of footwear.
In the 6th and 7th centuries, a famed poet from the kingdom of king Harsha Vardhana of Knnauj (presently located in the state of Uttara Pradesh), by name Bana. In his detailed work called Harsha Charita, he describes the attire of Hindu Mendicants. The wore the following:
- Loincloth of cotton
- Scarf over their shoulders
- Paduka on their feet
The skin of Antelope and Boar were used in manufacturing the Upanahs, while it was not new to have manufactured the Paduka’s using different kinds of metals as follows:
- Muja Glass
Since these looked fancy, monks were not allowed to wear them. It was only meant for a common man, as in India ascetics and monks follow a strict lifestyle, where, one cannot use things for mere pleasure unless there is some or the other higher purpose.
In the Brihat-Kalpa-Sutra-Bhashya, there are a lot of guidelines and details about how and whereabouts on footwear. Jains used to wear mainly leather shoes. There is a comprehensive guideline about the type of shoes with the materials, i.e. the type of leather that can be used.
The types of leather used were classified based on animal hides:
- Other wild animals
They were also desirous about a few particular colors, materials, and styles. Even among Jains, the footwear was clearly restricted to the monks. The Jain monks always used to wear the sandals or the Padukas, while the common people enjoyed the shoes or Upanah. When common people gave away their old shoes the monks were allowed to wear them. That was the only opportunity that they used to get on such occasions.
Apart from that, the monks were allowed only to wear single soled sandals called Ekaputam or Ekatalam.
There was this practice that came into existence during the time of Khilji. It was none other than the heels. Yes, the high heeled sandals came into existence at his very time. It was Allauddin Khilji’s time, in around the 13th century, when another poet, by name Amir Khusrau mentions these high heels, which were made using the metal, iron. They were called by the name Kafsh.
In the Hindi and Gujarati literature, these Islamic rulers are mentioned to have been using full boots too. They were famous at that time and was used to be called by the name Khalyal Paijara.
In his beautiful Ain-I-Akbari, Abul Fazl Allami describes the life of Emporer Akbar’s court in detail. He details every aspect of life prevalent in the activities of the king. He has also written the attire and ornaments of the people in his time. This verse is called “Sringara or Ornaments of Dress” in one of the chapters.
He further mentions the objects among both men and women as follows in the below table:
Sir Thomas Roe, who visited Akbar, elaborates on this writings mentioning about the shoes that Akbar used to wear. He further says that the shoes were:
- Embroidered with pearls
- The toes of the shoes were sharp
- They were shaped turning up
This came to be very fashionable footwear. It was named after Salim, one of the sons of Jahangir (the sone of Akbar), who founded the turning up toes. They were called by the name Salim Shahi Shoes.
We have some literary works of two travelers who came to India at the time of Vijayanagar Samarajya.
|2||Domingo Paes||Portuguese Traveller|
These two travelers have mentioned in their works about a unique practice that was practiced in the Vijayanagar Kingdom, by both Krishna Deva Raya and his subjects. When there was a meeting or a discussion of the king with the subjects or vice versa, both of them used to visit each other barefoot.
This practice brings to our notice that footwear was used in those times, and as a mark of respect meeting each other in the kingdom was always barefoot.
With the above literary works, we can easily infer that footwear was an integral part of the Indian system right from the Vedic times and even before.
Types of footwear in Ancient India
It is through this that we get to see the diversity of Indian footwear. There is, of course, a lot of variations in terms of materials, styles, colors used by people in different times and places. Let us see that in detail here.
The first thing that comes out as a difference is the cults that had their own variations or versions of footwear calling them in their own ways.
Footwear was classified mainly into two broad categories, like how it is even today:
|1||Upanah||Show that covers the whole foot|
|2||Paduka||Sandals or Chappals that has a strap on the sole|
Under this comes many variations. Let us categorize them based on the sects that were prevalent then.
These were the first ancient people to categorize footwear based on the way footwear looked like, and the parts they protected.
You can check the below video that has information about high heels 750 years ago.
Upanah and Padukas were the words used to differentiate the shoes with sandals. Based on these broad divisions the forthcoming sects or communities subcategorized and gave it their own flavors.
Buddhists were used to wearing four different types of shoes. They were as follows:
Let us find what are they in an elaborated fashion.
These are the type of shoes that used to cover the ankles. They used to support the ankles in not getting them twisted thereby protecting the legs from a sprain.
These were full boots that used to cover until just under the knee cap. They used to be helpful in working on some difficult jobs like plucking leaves, flowers in the forest area. These boots will protect the legs down the knee while amidst a forest.
These are the shoes that came with paddings that would comfort the legs. These paddings used to be mostly made out of cotton wool.
These were fancy shoes that were shaped like the wings of partridge or decorated with horns of a Ram or Goat, to an extent even a peacock feather. Footwear was glamorized way back then.
Jains had them categorized in their own ways that used to help them achieve their goals of life by protecting their legs as follows:
These are how they differ from each other.
These are the single soled shoes that were worn by the Jain monks mostly. They are also called as Eka-putam or Eka-talam or Tallika. The sole intention of this is to protect the monks from thorns while they walk at night from one place to another.
These shoes are soled greater than one. They could be two, three or more soles. There are other variations too from these. Ardh-khallaka, which would cover half the legs of the person and Purna-khallaka that would cover the full leg.
These types of shoes have all the qualities from Pramana-Krtsna, in addition to that, they were made from white leather or leather from different other colors, hence the name Varna.
When footwear had more than three fasteners and has two or three or more lines of sewings or cotton threads being used by weavers, they used to be called by the name Bandhara-Krtsna.
In the times of Islamic rulers, they introduced their versions that were mostly decorated and slightly different from the conventional ones. There were two variations that they called by, in different names as follows.
There was a lot of difference in these from what we have written about Jains, Buddhists, and Hindus. The difference is that these sandals were high heeled sandals. They were made using metals like iron.
The warriors used to wear this type of shoes that were full boots that would cover the whole leg until the knee.
They were having their style that was extremely unique and is used to date. The sharp toed shoes.
Salim Shahi Shoes
These are attributed to Akbar as follows:
“On his feet a pair of buskins embroidered with pearls, the toes sharp and turning up.” The up toed with sharped ones are a style of its own.
You can see for yourself how some of these are made.
Divinity and footwear in ancient India
India (whose culture can be read more in this article) along with diversity is also known for its divinity. This is the land that sees divinity in every object that is visible and invisible. There have been stories explaining to us about this very fact. Legs have never been disregarded in this land just because they form the lower part of the body. So were footwear.
The two incidents that have proven that this has always been the way here, can be read from below.
As mentioned earlier, when Rama (one of the 24 avatars of Lord Vishnu), Sita, and Lakshmana went to the forest as per the wishes of Kaikeyi, Bharata, Kaikeyi’s son was not happy with these decisions. So, he worships Ramas Paduka keeping it on the throne. On Rama’s behalf, his Padukas acted like a king.
In another place, in a south Indian temple apart from Paduka’s worship, footprints are also worshipped for the fact that a hunter’s daughter by name Valli has a small shrine dedicated to her at the pilgrimage center of Marudamalai, in Palani. In that place, Valli is represented either in Human form or by a pair of sandals.
With all these unique things being followed in India, we still are the oldest and relevant culture to date.