Feet and Footwear In Indian Culture

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Item Code: NAJ920
Author: Jutta Jain-Neubauer
Publisher: Mapin Publishing Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2000
ISBN: 9788185822693
Pages: 172 (Throughout Color Illustrations)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 11.0 inch x 9.0 inch
Weight 1.20 kg
Fully insured
Fully insured
Shipped to 153 countries
Shipped to 153 countries
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More than 1M+ customers worldwide
100% Made in India
100% Made in India
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Book Description
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About the Book


Innumerable references to the foot and to foot worship in Indian culture convey the impression that the foot is regarded as an important part of the human body. The foot is usually the part of the body that is venerated; the feet of elders are worshipped by the younger generation the feet of idols by their devotees; the feet of innocent persons by wrongdoers seeking forgiveness. There is also the romantic attachment towards the beloved’s foot. It was in this context that Indian miniature painting, drama and poetry referred to men treasuring the touch of the foot of their beloved. Until half a century, since the ascetic Hindu, Buddhist and Jain sects were not generally permitted the worldly luxury of footwear.


The religious and historical significance of feet and footwear in Indian art and culture are presented in this book, which was inspired by The Bata Shoe Museum Foundation. The richness and variety of ancient and traditional footwear are lavishly illustrated, with outstanding examples of the typical toe-knob sandals worn by mendicants and holy men and the beautifully embroidered shoes of the wealthy. Rare information on footwear has been culled from the lesser-known Buddhist and Jain sources concerning the traditions and regulations governing the monastic life of monks.


As part of the research, the Foundation organized field trips to various parts of India to document the making of some of the most traditional footwear types created by village craftsmen. Patterns and decorative treatment were studied and photographed. Examples include the making of leather Chappals in Kohlapur; embroidered juttis in Jodhpur. Indo-Tibetian felt boots in Sikkim and vegetable fibre shoes in Ladakh.


About the Author


Jutta Jain-Neubauer, born in Austria in 1951, studied Indology and Indian art history in Heidelberg and Bonn (Germany). She holds a Ph.D. in Indian art history with a thesis on "The Stepwells of Gujarat in art-historical perspective" (New Delhi, 1980). From 1978 to 1982, she was involved in a project related to the conservation of ancient monuments in Ahmedabad and other locations in Gujarat. Under a research project sponsored by the Feodor-Lynen programme of the Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation, she studied the relationship of ancient architectural texts (shilpashastras) with the structural form of temple architecture in Western India.


Her books include: The Stepwells of Gujarat in art-historical perspective (New Delhi, 1980), The Ramayana in Pahri Painting (Ahmedabad, 1981), Der Pfau in der Wuste (in German about costumes and textile of the Thar desert area, Stuttgart, 1992. She has written articles dealing with subjects such as wall paintings in Gujarat, Pahari miniature painting woodcarving, narrative picture scrolls, and Indian textiles.




The Indian subcontinent with its vast size and diversity has fascinated me all my life. My parents first travelled to India from Switzerland in 1936, when I was a young child. As was the custom at that time, they went by ship to Bombay and visited various pans of India by chartered railway carriage. The photographs and stories they brought back made a deep impression on me and I dreamed of visiting the wonderful, colourful places they depicted and of learning about the ancient, rich and mysterious cultures of India.


Little did I realise that later in life I would have many opportunities to visit the region, not as a student or tourist, but on business. In 1946, I married Thomas Bata, whose family had expanded their international footwear enterprise to the Indian subcontinent already before the Second World War. Since I have always taken an active interest in the business, I have been a frequent visitor.


During our early travels, most people, particularly in the South, went barefoot. Our challenge was to make and sell quality footwear at an affordable price. In an effort to gain an insight into the different customs and traditions of the diverse markets, we visited many parts of India, including not only large cities, but also a great number of small communities.


We discovered that to fully understand the business environment, we also had to study the cultural history. Within the subcontinent, the boundaries between many cultures, whether influenced by language, religion, politics or economics, are far from


clear-cut. Over thousands of years, diversity has flourished and people have refused to conform and restrain their creativity. This has sometimes resulted in conflict and oppression, bur for the most part different people have lived alongside each other in harmony over long periods. They have mingled and separated, weaving a rich tapestry. People on the Indian subcontinent have always formed a predominantly rural society. Strength and resilience seems to be founded on countless village communities. Traditions are vital and preserved or reinterpreted by each generation, so that society continuously reshapes and rediscovers itself.


It was during one of my early trips to India, shortly after Independence, that I collected a pair of roe knob sandals, padukas, because the unique shape intrigued me. Later in life, I collected more and more indigenous shoes from various parts of the world. My collection finally led to the establishment of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto which, according to the latest Guinness Book of Records, has the largest shoe collection in the world.


I particularly focused on the special meaning of feet in various cultures. Feet are sometimes considered to be the most humble, and at the same time, the most revered part of the human body. Moreover, to document traditional types of footwear proved to be a challenging task, because of the great variety of different traditions and social practices from region to region, town to town, and village to village.


It is with special pride that our Museum is sponsoring the publication of this book. Several people were instrumental in assisting us with research. In 1998 we established an Advisory Council under the chairmanship of Martand Singh, Chairman of INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage). Other members of the Advisory Council were Dr B.N. Goswamy, the renowned historian, Dr Jyotindra Jain, senior Director of the Crafts Museum, Dr Jutta Jain-Neubauer, an art historian, Mr Kumar Singh, and Mr Jaswant Singh, an executive of Bara India Limited.


Dr jutta Jain-Neubauer undertook to write the manuscript. Mr Jaswant Singh, with the help of Bara India Limited, coordinated the fieldwork in India. At the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, we researched all the artifacts and assisted with the writing of the third chapter on Traditional Indian Footwear in the Modern Period. Based on our research, we organized an exhibition of outstanding items at the Bata Shoe Museum. I am particularly grateful to John Vollmer of Vollmer Cultural Partnerships Inc., who acted as our project co-ordinator, and also Julia Pine, our acting curator, for their tremendous assistance and tireless work, which were essential to the success of this endeavour.


Through the study of the role of feet and footwear in the past and present, we hope to contribute in our specific field to the knowledge of the traditions and customs of this rich and complex subcontinent, which has been the home of a fifth of all humanity.




There are innumerable references to feet and feet worship in Indian literature. The religious and cultural significance of feet in the Indian tradition is unique. The feet are considered to be sacred and therefore objects of veneration: the feet of elders are worshipped by the younger generation, the feet of religious teachers and holy men and women by their followers, the feet of idols by their devotees, and the feet of those from whom a wrongdoer seeks forgiveness.


Almost paradoxically, the sentiment of humility and sub-missiveness evoking the emotions of awe, respect, and adoration are rooted in the idea that feet are the humblest, most impure, and polluting part of the body, and therefore may command respect by those who surrender their ego to the venerable. The brahminic belief that the steps and shadow of an outcaste should be avoided as they bring bad luck, is also rooted in the same notion of humbleness of feet. Connected too with this sense of surrender and humility, is the romantic sentiment associated with the beloved's feet as glorified in literature. The lover admires them by caressing them as a demonstration of his ultimate devotion to her and vice versa. It was in this context that Indian painting, drama, and poetry referred to men treasuring the touch of the foot of their beloved, and women lavishing great cosmetic attention to their feet and adorning them with as much care as they would take to beautify their face. The tender foot then becomes the symbol of affection and sensual desire, and plays an effective role in love-play. Radha sitting at the god Krishna's feet; Krishna gently massaging Radha's feet; or the delightful story of the callow Brahmin who, when his head was touched by the foot of a courtesan in love-play, seeks to receive exoneration from this "pollution", and ends up as the butt of ridicule, are examples of the unique significance that feet enjoy in the Indian amorous imagination. These as well as the romantic and erotic symbolic connotations of painting or tattooing the feet, using toe-rings, anklets, and other forms of foot adornment and the associated love poetry; the sounds of footfalls; the soft thud of bare feet; silent steps in the dark of night; the tapping sound of wooden sandals; the jingling of ankle bells; the rhythm of dance; the magical power of the foot of the goddess; and the religious significance of footprints are the themes elaborated in this book. Indigenous words for 'footprint', 'feet', with both their etymological and secondary meanings, as well as a range of references to feet and ankle ornaments, have been traced right from the period of the Rig Veda (c. 4000 B.C.) through the classical Sanskrit literature, mediaeval poetry, and contemporary living practices, and are discussed in the context of their deeper cultural meanings and usages in Part I.


Part II provides a historical outline of footwear in India. Rare information has been culled from lesser-known Buddhist and Jaina sources relating to the rules and regulations governing the life of monks. These canons forbade the use of certain impure materials or certain provocative types of footwear, implying thereby that these were fashionable in then contemporary society. Other important sources that have been consulted are the accounts of Chinese, Arabic, and European travellers who often described vividly and in great detail the manners and customs of the Indian people in given periods, including their clothing and footwear. Sculpture and paintings too serve as clear mirrors reflecting the social and cultural practices of the respective periods and shed much light on feet and footwear. Lastly, the collections of traditional Indian footwear, foremost among these from the Bata Shoe Museum, put together over the past few decades, are of great significance for reconstruction of what the picture of richness and variety of ancient Indian footwear that might have been and the customs relating to them.


It deals with the preparation of hide and leather as raw material for making shoes and other accessories and examines the complex structure of caste composition in India where leather workers, such as flayers, tanners, furriers, and shoemakers, were considered outcastes and untouchables. Part III elaborates the contemporary customs of shoemaking in India.


It was a common practice in most of rural India, until half a century ago, to walk barefoot, and therefore it would not be an exaggeration to generally describe India as a "barefoot country". However, shoes were worn for protection of feet against severe climatic or topographic conditions in certain northern mountainous regions of the country. In all likelihood, the Indian aristocracy may have developed already a taste for footwear in the early centuries of the Christian era, as is evident from the sculpture of the period. The possibility of origin of several styles and genres of footwear having been rooted in the fusion of indigenous traditions and Graeco Roman and Kushana influences of the time cannot be overlooked. Apparently, under Mughal influence, the use of a variety of footwear, especially among the upper classes, became a norm. The ascetics of the Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina sects were not generally permitted the worldly luxury of footwear, but to prevent contact with any ritually impure substances they were allowed to use footwear made from wood or other such "purer" materials. Footwear of divine personages was the vehicle of the dust of their holy feet and as such was considered to be worthy of veneration. This idea led to the practice of worshipping holy men and divinities not in the form of their anthropomorphic image but by their symbolic representation in the form of their footwear.


Nonetheless, over the course of centuries, a rich variety of footwear was created in India, and this included sandals, babouches, mules, slippers, shoes, boots, socks and stockings. These were made from a number of raw materials such as cow, buffalo or goat hide, silk, wool or cotton fibre and, various grasses. The very typical Indian toe-knob sandals, known as paduka, were made of such materials as wood, ivory, brass, silver, semi-precious stone such as jade, or a combination of these. Shoes were embellished with a great sense of aesthetics and designed in a number of ways including embroidery, applique work, inlay of precious stones, silver or gold brocade, and tasselling. The reason for this abundance and variety may lie in the enormous diversity of climatic conditions, ethnic and cultural traditions, ritual conventions, and exposure to the outside world through voyages and trade. These factors, perhaps in combination, catalyzed the development of the plethora of types and variations of footwear that were and are to be found all over India.


As we have noted earlier, shoes were not worn daily, but only on particular occasions. Indeed, a major part of India enjoys a warm climate for most of the year and therefore there is hardly an absolute necessity to wear shoes to protect the feet against extreme climatic conditions such as ice and snow as is the case in many other parts of the world. The utilitarian and functional aspect of the shoe and footwear is thus, to a degree, replaced in the Indian context by a religious, ritual, symbolic, ceremonial, or allegorical value.


Only in some regions of India, such as the hilly northern and north-eastern regions, are produced, to this day, a variety of shoes, boots, and socks made of leather, wool, or vegetable fibre or mixed materials, that are delightfully patterned and, besides being decorative, protect the feet against the extreme climatic conditions there. The north-eastern regions of the upper Himalayan mountains are renowned for their innovative manufacture of footwear made of grasses or reeds, sometimes in combination with felt, wool, or jute, which are ideally suited for to the damp climate and serve as protection against the biting cold of the high mountain regions.


The book, first of its kind, traces the history of Indian footwear from ancient times to date through literary and archaeological sources, taking into account their materials, techniques, typologies, religious and social significance, and cross-cultural influences.


PART 1The Foot in Indian Culture16
PART 2Ancient Footwear and Types of Shoes80
Traditional Hide, Leather, and Leather Workers in India118
PART 3Traditional Indian Footwear in the Modern Period124
Photo Credits171
Sample Pages

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