PADUKA: Feet and Footwear in Indian Tradition
The religious and cultural significance of feet and footwear in the tradition of the peoples of the Indian subcontinent is complex and unique. Feet are both the most revered and reviled part of the body. The feet of elders, religious teachers and deities are worshipped. The feet of women are beautifully cared for and adorned, and become symbols of affection and eroticism. Conversely, feet are the most humble, impure and polluting part of the body.
Classroom Activities & Projects
The symbolism of footwear is also deeply entrenched in Indian culture. For example, paduka, or toe-knob sandals, were found in religiously symbolic shapes, such as fish. Footwear can represent the deity: in the Ramanayana the paduka of the exiled prince Rama are placed on his throne by his brother, symbolically replacing him as sovereign of his kingdom. Paduka were also a symbol of the holiness of holy men and gurus. And as votive offerings, they have been objects of adoration for devotees for over 5,000 years.
Teachers will find ways to use the web exhibition 'Paduka: Feet and Footwear in Indian Culture' at many different grade levels, but it is particularly suitable for students of Grade 11 (and up) who are studying world religions. The activities focus on five artifacts in the web exhibition which relate specifically and meaningfully to religions in India, and serve as an illustration of how feet and footwear can reflect belief systems, symbolism, ritual and artistic expression.
Review each of the five artifacts and related information in the web exhibition with the class. Students can then be assigned one or more of the research topics and complete it either independently or in groups, at the teacher's discretion. The format of the assignments may also vary (i.e. oral presentations, written reports, essays, etc.).