India Footprints"My brother, Rama has given to me this kingdom as a trust. These sandals, embellished with gold diffuse gain and security to the people." (Valmiki Ramayana - Ayodhya Kanda in Prose Sarga 115)Step back into the mythological ‘Ramayana’ where Rama’s brother Bharata placed Rama’s slippers (wooden pallets probably) on the throne, refusing to take over the empire. The wooden pallets could well be the first in the line of our traditional footwear. Wooden pallets or thongs with a stalk in front which is grasped between the big and the second toe are commonly known as kharou. The Hindu religion considers the cow as a sacred animal and therefore leather was not used in manufacture of sandal. Instead, wood, ivory or metal was preferred. The toe-knob grip was a distinctive feature and sandals were carved from wood. Sometimes shoes were sheathed with intricate worked silver or even gold and precious embellishments. These wooden sandals are considered sacred and still worn by various religious preachers and throughout the ages, spiritual seekers have worshipped the sandals of the master as embodiments of grace and wisdom. A pair of wooden sandals worn by the first Sikh guru Nanak Dev is still preserved in Gurudwara Thara Sahib at Uch in Bahawalpur district in Pakistan.The kharau may have inspired the Chopine, a shoe having a thick sole, usually of cork, suggesting a short stilt, worn by women in 18th century Europe after its introduction from Turkey.Another historical and traditional submission for feet which still makes a statement are the Punjabi juttis/ khussas and Rajastani or Jaipuri mojaris – a must to complete that distinct Indian look. Believed to be inspired from the Mughal period, juttis are handmade by skilled artisans. Characterised by its flat leather sole, the slip-on jutti or mojari rises high to the Achilles' tendon in the back and covers the toes with a round or M- leaving the top of the foot nearly bare. The heavily embroidered leather or raw silk uppers, lot of artistic patterns with precious and semi-precious stones, and bead embellishments are its unique features. For comfort, they keep feet cool in hot season and hot in winters. The Punjabi jutti market near the Quila Mubarak in Patiala, still enjoys an enviable reputation for making traditional juttis, Chaura Bazaar in Ludhiana has over 10-15 shops selling juttis exclusively. Towns like Muktsar, Bhatinda in Punjab, Pinjore in Haryana can give you a glimpse of the shoemakers crafting exquisite examples of the Punjabi juttis.
The craft of zari work is concentrated in Bhopal, and many juttties in Zari also come from Gwalior and Indore. In the capital too, juttis and mojaris sell hot in the cluttered markets of Pahargunj, Lajpat Nagar and even by some organised shoe retailers.From the western part of the country is the Kolhapuri chappal, named after its manufacturing hub Kolhapur – a city situated in the southwest corner of Maharashtra. Kolhapuri chappals known as Pie- taan in local language are specially made from processed buffalo leather. Traditionally the cobbler community used to prepare these chappals..From the higher reaches of Himachal Pradesh come straw and treated bark shoes or pullas – used for walking on snowThe straw or bark, in natural fawn and beige shades, interspersed with dyed bright reds, magentas and blues, is tightly woven to make them in different sizes. Each pulla
is made in one piece with its bark sole providing excellent grip on snow. In addition, Chamba, town in Himachal is known for the design quality of its leather chappals
. Chamba chappals with their open toes and partially woven ‘vamps’ catch even the most unobservant eye. Besides their aesthetic appeal, they are light and comfortable.Going east, West Bengal makes India the largest manufacturer of jute in the world. Jute as a raw material has penetrated into many spheres of artistic actiity and the footwear has not remained untouched. Since years sandals, clogs, shoes and disposable slip-ons are being crafted out of the jute coir. Jute footwear is made of bleached and natural yarn inter-woven with lining. Ladies clogs are made with jute coir and furnished leather toe-knot. Interwoven jute and leather, with leather binding are used to make Jute sandals. The footbed may be made of jute composite. Jute coir shoe uppers in trendy designs and uses are fast finding place in the wish list of fashion connoisseurs.