Footwear too has its special place in the land’s epics of nearly thirty centuries vintage. Both Ramayana of Thretha Yuga and Mahabharatha of Dwapara have featured it in different circumstances. Even in modern times followers of pontiffs in various Mutts accord status of sacredness and veneration to their paaduka (footwear), mostly made of wood with a post and knob engaged between the big and second toe. The practice, that has sustained through several centuries, may be traced to Bharatha, younger brother of Sri Rama, considered as a symbol of dharma and idealism, who requested for the Lord’s paaduka to serve as His proxy during the 14-year-exile, as described in Sage Valmiki’s monumental lyrical work.
Folklore has kept in circulation to this day an interesting episode featuring footwear in Mahabhartha. Pandavas had agreed that only one brother must enter Draupadi’s chamber at a time and during that time no other Pandava must enter her chamber. The brother who entered her chamber was to keep his footwear outside the door. Violation of this stipulation had a strict penalty — the offender had to leave immediately for a year-long-exile. Saintly persons wearing silver footwear and royalty wearing ivory footwear have been mentioned by chroniclers, thus the sole of the footwear being recognised as its quintessential soul.
The saga of footwear makes an unendingly fascinating study, considering its march to its present wide diversity in design materials and use for meeting the special needs, apart from its humble image as a protector of the walker’s feet. Ballet dancers, school children, sports persons, armed forces, infants, athletes, joggers and so on have their own captive makes of footwear, miles and miles different from the ancient paaduka.
Mysureans in their evening of life can recall their now-extinct most-favoured and exclusively patronised footwear specialists working with their time-honoured simple tools from whom the old-timers purchased their footwear for a song, with their unquestionable and failsafe durability, unlike some fragile designs of nowadays. Science and technology have not spared the humble footwear of past several centuries with leather as the sole material for footwear of common people yielding place to rubber, plastic, polymers and so on, taking away the livelihood of roadside cobblers of yesteryears. Kanpur (spelt Cawnpur during colonial rule) was synonymous with few brands of footwear such as Flex, Gadag was the centre of its famed chappals making creaking sound while walking, Rajasthani residents wore their footwear with stately image. All these names have been swept aside by the ubiquitous Hawaii chappal.
Wearing footwear being still regarded as basic in line with food, shelter and drinking water, the mass of an estimated 350 million pairs of non-biodegradable shoes discarded globally every year has just created a novel enterprise called Greensole, transforming worn-out and abandoned footwear into fully wearable ones for a fraction of the price of the new footwear, thus benefiting thousands of people still walking barefoot. Thus, the sole of the footwear has truly acquired its soul (pun not intended).