The paduka—also known as the khadaun, kharawan, and karom—is the simplest type of Indian foot protection. At its most basic, a paduka is a wooden sole with a knob that fits between the big toe and the second toe. The wearer grips the knob between his toes to keep the sole on the foot. First worn by mendicants, or religious men, padukas have been part of Indian costume since at least the seventh century C.E. In modern times padukas are rarely worn, yet they are still valued as symbols of religious devotion. They are often given as gifts or worn at religious ceremonies.
Padukas fit well with the simple life of religious men, who often lived with the fewest necessities as a way of practicing spiritual discipline. Padukas provided protection for the feet in the simplest manner. Made of durable materials, padukas saved the feet from the heat of summer roads and the pain of sharp stones and thorns. One pair of padukas discovered in the eighteenth century adds another dimension to the sandal's ritual use, however. This pair of padukas was made of wood with a bed of sharp iron spikes covering the footbed. The wearer must have suffered pain with every step as a way of reinforcing his religious convictions.
Although all padukas are soles with a toe knob, not all padukas are simple. Some are lavishly decorated and made of expensive materials such as ivory, leather, silver, or rare wood. While common padukas are cut in the shape of a footprint, padukas for celebratory or ritual occasions are cut in the shape of fish, hourglasses, or feet with carved toes. These special occasion padukas are made with great care. Expertly carved, painted, or inlaid with silver and gold, they are quite luxurious. One pair of intricately painted wooden padukas featured toe knobs topped with ivory lotus flowers that turned from bud to blossom as each step triggered a mechanism in the sole.
Jain-Neubauer, Jutta. Feet and Footwear in Indian Culture. Toronto, Canada: Bata Shoe Museum, 2000.