Paduka – The Footwear Once Worn by Men and Women in India


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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The centuries-old Hindu, Buddhist and Jain scriptures trace the use of footwear in India way back to 200 BC. Coins of the Kushan period (130 BC to 185 AD) and the Gupta period (320 to 550 AD) feature kings wearing boots.

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Kapula (Source: ehow.co.uk)
Kapula (Source: ehow.co.uk)

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From ancient times, wearing leather footwear was taboo in India because the Hindus consider the cow as sacred; and so, the use of sandals made of wood, plant  fibres, and metals was in vogue.

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The Sun god at Guda Mandap at the Sun Temple, Modhera (Source: wikimedia.org)
The Sun god at Guda Mandap at the Sun Temple, Modhera (Source: wikimedia.org)

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In the 11th century Sun temple at Modhera, Gujarat, the sun god wears a distinctive West Asian belt and lengthy footwear. And, in the 13th century Dakshinaarka temple at Gaya in the state of Bihar in India, the presiding deity Dakshinaarka, the Sun God wears a jacket, a waist girdle and high boots in the Iranian tradition.

The term paduka is a compound word made up of two Sanskrit words Namely, “pada” (foot) and “ka“, a diminutive ending literally meaning “small”.

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Paduka, Garamur Sutra (Source: majulilandscape. Gov. in)
Paduka, Garamur Sutra (Source: majulilandscape. gov. in)

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The paduka has a sole with a post and knob. The wearer of the paduka grips the post and knob between their big and second toe to  keep the foot in place.

Since the paduka do not have straps of any kind to keep them adhered to the feet, it must have been difficult to walk wearing them. The wearers would have dragged their feet along the ground accompanied by funny movements of their hips.

Paduka from the 1800s, with bone and ivory inlay in sheesham wood (Source: indiapiedaterredotcom.wordpress.com)
Paduka from the 1800s, with bone and ivory inlay in sheesham wood (Source: indiapiedaterredotcom.wordpress.com)

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Fine teak, ebony and sandalwood went into the making of the paduka for the affluent embellished with leather and fur. Large floral and leaf motifs were carved and embedded or inlaid with beads, stones, crystals,  ivory, and metals such as copper, bronze and iron.

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Fish shaped paduka inlaid with brass, and part of the Bata Shoe Museum collection, Toronoto, Canada (Source: indiapiedaterredotcom.wordpress.com)
Fish shaped paduka inlaid with brass, and part of the Bata Shoe Museum collection, Toronoto, Canada (Source: indiapiedaterredotcom.wordpress.com)

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The paduka took on a variety of forms such as the actual shape of feet, or of fish (a symbol of fertility and plenty in India), or animals.

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An antique wedding silver and gold over wood, toe-knob paduka, of the 1800s exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Musueum, London.
An antique wedding silver and gold over wood, toe-knob paduka, of the 1800s exhibited in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

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In ancient times, decorated and expensive paduka formed a part of an Indian bride’s trousseau.

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A Pandit woman wearing paduka ca.1922 (Source: wikimedia.org)
A Pandit woman wearing paduka ca.1922 (Source: wikimedia.org)

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Some commoners too wore paduka, but of a simpler design.

Even today, a few Hindu and Jain ascetics and mendicants wear the paduka.

Spiked wooden Paduka of late 19th Century (Source: shoesornoshoes.com)
Spiked wooden Paduka of late 19th Century (Source: shoesornoshoes.com)

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Some masochistic Hindu ascetics wore spiked paduka for inflicting pain on themselves as an aid to performing penance.

Paduka in Hindu mythology

On certain occasions, the paduka became the object of veneration in Hindu mythology. It is significant in the epic Ramayana.

Queen Kaikeyi, mother of Bharata, at the behest of Manthara, the ugly hunchbacked, antagonistic maid, beseeched her husband, King Dasaratha to exile her step son Rama, whom she loved dearly, for 14 years and crown her own son Bharata as prince-regent.

Prince Rama, his consort princess Sita, and his step-brother, prince Laksmana went into a forest to spend their period of exile. But the good prince Bharata, who loved his older step-brother Rama, did not want to become the prince-regent. So, he met Rama on his way to the deep forest and entreated him to return to Ayodhya. When Rama told Bharata that he will return only after completing his fourteen years in the forest, Bharata requested Rama to give him his paduka to serve as an object of veneration for the subjects of the kingdom.

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Guler painting (c. 1780 AD) of Bharata Worshiping the Sandals of his beloved step-brother Rama.
Haripur Guler painting (c. 1780 AD) of Bharata Worshiping the Sandals of his beloved step-brother Rama.

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Bharata carried Rama’s pair of paduka with great reverence by placing them on his head as a mark of respect and obedience to his elder brother.  Bharata installed Rama’s  pair of  paduka on the throne and ruled the kingdom of Kosala as Rama’s proxy.

High-heeled footwear

High-heeled footwear now known as platforms did not come into our lives in the 1970’s. Our ancestors wore them in India several centuries before.

At the archaeological site at Chandraketugarh, about 35 km north-east of Kolkata, footwear with raised heel and floral motifs used around 200 BC were found.

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Indian paduka (Source: fabulousplatformshoes.com)
Indian paduka (Source: fabulousplatformshoes.com)
The sculpture at the  Ramappa Temple in Warangal

The Ramalingeswara temple also known as Ramappa gudi  is located 77 km from Warangal  and 157 km from Hyderabad. Here one can find  850 years old sculptures.

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Fashionable ladies in India wore high heels 850 years ago exemplified in a sculpture at Ramappa Temple in Warangal, Telangana, India.
Fashionable ladies in India wore high heels 850 years ago exemplified in a sculpture at Ramappa Temple in Warangal, Telangana, India.

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The above sculpture in the Ramappa Temple exemplifies the fact that fashionable ladies in India wore high-heeled paduka.

The elevated paduka must have helped the ladies to give the illusion that they were much taller than what they were!

Again,  there could have been a more practical reason – to keep their feet and clothing clean!

The elevated paduka must have helped the ladies to give the illusion that they were much taller than what they were!

Again, there could have been a more practical reason; maybe to keep their feet and clothing clean!

By the way, from ancient times, Sudras, the low caste people in India, were not allowed to wear any type of footwear on public roads. They had to carry them in their hands. One can see this phenomenon even now in many villages in India.

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