When historians weave history's narrative, it is primarily based on implied evidence. So far we only have pieces of random parts of history, which we now put together to get a story of who we were and who we have become. The history of shoes shows us our inventive, creative, and inquisitive mind which has spent centuries perfecting the technique of leather production, tools, and weaving techniques to customize them to different clothing and footwear goods.
Everything we use today has had its origin probably thousands of years ago, even digital communication technology today is not just something that evolved in the last 100 years. People have been using devices and various methods perfecting their mechanisms since they built the first machine. However, for this article, our focus is the craft and history of South Asian footwear.
Indian footwear specifically has been known to be home to various different craft styles since the Early Vedic Period.>
We’re taught in school that South Asians and Arabs have been trying to perfect creative crafts with mathematical approaches before Europeans ventured out to colonize these regions for raw materials. However, trade between certain Arabian, European, and South Asian nations has been evident in the similarities of their exchange of culture. Collective effort and exchange of information is not the effect of Globalisation but rather just human curiosity.
What is considered to be the earliest known shoe style found in the Indian Subcontinent is known as Paduka. Paduka has numerous mentions in Hindu religious texts and literature dating approximately to the Vedic period. The materials used for this shoe varied from a person's ranking within the Vedic society. They were also considered to be prestigious dowries during that period where the Bride’s family would send intricately adorned Padukas along with their daughter to her new home.
One tradition seen across the continent which is still followed today is removing your shoes before entering your house and sacred religious spaces. Reasons for this custom come from the idea of maintaining hygiene and showing humility in the house of God. Footwear for the longest time was regarded to be a symbol of wealth, and when you take them off, you are reconnecting to your root and showing your humbleness.
Then came the classic chappals whose design is something still used in Indian footwear today. They are quite similar to Japanese Geta pairs that look like a mixed version of Padukas and Chappals. Their design may be considered similar to that of modern Western sandals, what distinguishes them is seen in the pair of Kolhapuri Chappals, which include a ring strap for your toe to fit in. This is seen as a way to support your feet while walking along with the large strap that goes across your feet. Usually, the craft of chappals depends from artisan to artisan but also varies by area. The metropolitan cities have adapted to a version that lies right between western sandals and Inidna chappals for day-to-day wear. They are great for humid and hot summers! And we would strongly encourage you to try an authentic pair of Kolkhapuri Chappals to understand the power and durability of a handcrafted pair of footwear. And it is always wise to invest in local artisans!
Also considered the OG UGGs, just like chappals are still worn in colder regions of India and Nepal to date. Their idea was the use local materials and produce a pair of shows that helps them survive the snow ladden months during winter. Originally they are known to have been first made in Iran and are considered to help residents protect their feet from animals like snakes or even large rocks that could injure your feet while walking in high regions. They are also considered to be the inspiration behind western knee-high boots, but this could be circumstantial due to the possibility of just having similar weather.
Juttis or Mojaris
Still commonly worn amongst Indians and Pakistanis to date, the craft has especially gotten popular amongst Gen Zs for its versatile style. While the structure of the Mojari remains to be similar to its original style, the patterns, and various different motifs have given way to even Indian designers making their luxury versions of the pair! They are also very similar to Korean Gomusin or Kung Fu shoes, meaning that a lot of humans millennia ago figured the best way to protect feet was to cover their ankles to toe.
It is commonly believed that Mojaris are the inspiration behind ballet flats, however now we know that they were mainly inspired by Pointe Shoes which were seen on Ballerinas and since many High Society women started training their daughters in Ballet, it was seen as a pair which was worn by wealthy and sophisticated women. Thus also popularised by upper-middle-class women in the 1950s.
Mojaris and Juttis were also brought back in trend in the 2000s by actress Kareena Kapoor Khan who was often seen wearing these in her movie Jab We Met and during the promotion of the film. Juttis are a very integral part of Indian fashion we doubt it will be going anywhere out of style. So go ahead and buy a pair from a local artisan today!!
Indian footwear reminds us of how closely art and fashion are intertwined. They show us that the most beautiful pair of shoes aren't made by machines or by luxury brands which go over multiple drafts of sketches and ideas. They are made by craftsmen who have trained endlessly to perfect their craft and vision for decades and craft each pair personally and are involved in that shoe's journey.