The shoe is considered so impure that upon accidental contact with another person’s body, you apologise and in a typical Indian gesture tap the person slightly and touch own forehead to express regret.
What is it that you like to hurl at offensive people, or weave a garland to adorn hated persons or their effigies, use as a weapon to beat people up as ultimate punishment or remove from your body at the threshold of temples, shrines and even homes? It’s a lowly shoe.
Being a shoe must be pathetic, you imagine.
Cut to, inside the Indian temple, you find a pair of “paduka” (shoes) of the deity displayed on a pedestal. You bow your head before the “shoes” and seek blessings! During Indian weddings it’s the same shoe the young damsels love to steal from the groom in return for money and some banter (Joote le lo, paise de do!), creating lighter moments of mirth in the otherwise solemn occasion. Gandhi made the simple ‘chappal’ a symbol of India’s self-sufficiency during 20th century Independence movement. He also set up a tannery in Sabarmati Ashram at Ahmedabad.
Being a shoe is a matter of privilege, you concede!
The symbolism of the ‘shoe’ as an instrument of power, piety and purpose is evident in Indian texts. In ancient Indian texts Rigveda, Yajurveda Samhita, Atharvaveda, footwear finds a mention as ‘ Upanah’ or ‘Upanat’ made from grass, wood, and leather. Later in Ramayana, they came to be referred to as, “paduka” and were made of wood. The story of Ramayan actually bestows much responsibility on the shoe. Step mother of Lord Ram, Queen Kaikeyi, felt insecure about the future of her own son, Bharat. She asked her husband King Dasarath to exile Ram for 14 years and designate Bharat as Crown Prince.
The ever-obedient Ram, along with wife Sita, and step-brother, Laksman left the palace and proceeded towards the jungles to spend the period of exile. Not taking kindly to this step, Bharat, met Ram and entreated him to return to Ayodhya. When his request was declined, Bharat asked for Ram’s “paduka” to serve the Kingdom as proxy king. Upon the sudden demise of King Dasarath, and for the next 14 years, Bharat continued to look after the kingdom, while the shoes sat on the throne.
This is India where a pair of shoes can rule on behalf of the King!
The shoe can also be presented as a peace offering or gift.
As in the ancient text Mahabharat, Rishi Jamadagni got this gift from the Sun God himself. The legend goes that Rishi Jamdagni enraged with the scorching Sun for shining brightly on his wife Renuka started to shoot arrows at the Sun. The Sun God, then presented him a pair of sandals and an umbrella to protect against the heat from below and above. Similarly when Vishnu took the Vaman incarnation, he is depicted holding an umbrella and wearing shoes whereby shoes are symbols of asceticism. Advaita philosophy is about symbols and their signi cance. The “paduka” of Shiva are often used to represent Him in ceremonies. The “paduka” or Khadau are wooden footwear with one knob worn by renunciates. They symbolise the spiritual path away from family and worldly things. This is because the knob is placed in such a way that one pressure point is activated, which induces the celibate state. The “paduka” therefore are yogic instruments.
India is a land of contradictions and there lies our mystery! Despite these depictions both mythological and historical, India has been a land of barefoot people.
That is why foot hygiene has always been given importance. The variety of foot scrubbers available in all parts of the country since ancient times, coupled with decorations of the feet with alta and henna, massages with scented oils and special foot jewelry such as anklets, and toe rings point towards this obsession with foot beauti cation. Perhaps, touching of feet, the Indian custom to show utmost respect, mandates foot hygiene of a very high standard ! In fact, to express extreme respect, one often refers to another’s feet as “lotus” or “charan kamal”! It is the same foot fetish that has encouraged the production of indigenous varieties of shoes from all over the country.
That shoes have religious, spiritual, traditional and cultural meaning is apparent but the great surprise is that they are assumed to have therapeutic value too!
While drinking from the shoe is considered as an omen to bring good fortune the world over, in India it is used to ward of demons. Smelling of shoes can revive a fainting spell and hanging a shoe at the back of a new vehicle can ward of an evil eye!
Most certainly there’s more to a shoe than meets the eye.
Keep blowing the Trumpet! This & many more stories await in the pages!