The Indian Subcontinent

Feet and shoes hold a special place in religious and social life. As many people go barefoot most of the time in India, the shoe was associated with special occasions and high status. Only in the colder regions, such as Kashmir, Nepal and Bhutan, are boots or shoes required for warmth and protection.

Within the confines of the geographical region, the religion, social status, and sex of the wearer, Indian footwear shows an enormous diversity in styles and materials. These range from simple leather thong sandals, or chappals, to ceremonial padukas or toe-knob sandals made of silver, iron, and even ivory.

In Northern India, the curled toe and open back is a common feature of footwear, as is the beautiful, intricate metallic embroidery, which today is still executed completely by hand.

Because the foot is considered an object of beauty and eroticism, much decoration and jewellery, including anklets and toe rings, is used to embellish women's feet. Likely because of their association with fertility and humility, feet and sandals also feature prominently in Hindu mythology. The God Vishnu's feet, Vishnu-pada, are considered to be the representation of the deity himself.

For conservation reasons, and in order to show more variety over time, only a selection of footwear from the permanent collection is displayed in our exhibitions at any one time. This means there's always something new to see.

image of Indian footwear