Chappals, a simple type of leather sandal, provide the foot with basic protection from hot surfaces and rough terrain. Made with flat soles attached to the foot by straps that encircle the top of the foot and big toe, chappals became a common type of footwear in India by the third century C.E. and remain the most typical foot covering today. Chappals are popular among men, women, and children of all religions throughout India and surrounding countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.
In the early twentieth century the great Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948) inspired Indians to make their own chappals in addition to weaving their own cloth as a symbol of Indian independence at a time when Indians were trying to end British rule of their land. His efforts worked, and small family-run shoe businesses succeeded in India. During the 1970s, when hand-made Indian chappals became popular in the United States and Europe with hippies, young people who rejected mass-produced clothing among other conventions of Western society, these small Indian shops were able to export most or all of their chappals for profit.
Chappals are only one type of sandal found in India. Each region throughout India, especially the northern regions, produces a variety of sandal styles. Some are embellished with embroidery, and others have wooden soles decorated with carvings. The variations are almost infinite.
Jain-Neubauer, Jutta. Feet and Footwear in Indian Culture. Toronto, Canada: Bata Shoe Museum, 2000.