Why Do We Take Our Footwear Off in a Hindu temple?
Recently I have visited Ernakulathappan temple. A tall man came to me and introduced himself as Janardhanan. He said he used to read my articles. Then abruptly asked a question: “Udayji, why is footwear not allowed inside the temple? What’s the tradition behind it?”
“Who said so? Some people are allowed to wear footwear inside. The footwear allowed inside a temple is called Khadau.” (A Khadau is essentially the old style footwear. It is made of wood.) There are certain temples in northern India that allow wooden Paadukas (footwear) to be worn during winter months.
“Oh, that may be in the ancient times. I was asking about today’s footwear – like shoes, chappals, sandals etc.”
“Oh, okay. Most of the Temple authorities display a board which says “Footwear are prohibited inside the temple premises” – that should be the reason,” I said adding, “We need to obey rule of the temple, right?”
“Udayji, that’s very simplistic response. I asked you because you write about science and logic of every Hindu tradition. As a reason, I heard that, we need to absorb positive energy in the temple premise through the bare feet?”
“Janardhanji, I do not know about such positive energy. The words positive and negative are just scales to denote calculations. I have not learnt about any such energy in science classes, I am sorry.”
“Hmm. There is another reason that people say shoes and chappals carry germs.”
“What if I buy a brand new pair from a nearby shop and wear them? Will they allow me inside the temple with footwear?”
“Hmm. No. So you mean to say there are no apparent reasons for banning footwear inside the temple?”
“I didn’t say that. There should be many reasons. A Hindu should be able to understand and explain what he does, logically and scientifically. Please don’t use fake sciences like positive energy or about germs which specialize only on bare foot.”
“Udayji, I really need to know the reason. Many people asked me, especially from other religions. I am not able to give convincing answers. What comes to your mind…?”
“The temples were built based upon Hindu economic system. It was a battery house of sorts – wealth, food, arts, music, discussion, education etc. So, if our ancestors didn’t wear footwear, the reason should be economic. In ancient days, poor people cannot afford footwear. And all were NOT allowed in the temple. The temple entry was restricted to a couple of priests and the King. Others didn’t have any business there.” (For details please read articles on Hindu Economics at http://www.udaypai.in/hindu-economics-is-there-any-better-…/ and articles on Hindu Temples)
“Hmm. I have read those articles. I know you have a strong point there….Are there any other reasons for not allowing footwear inside the temple?”
“There could be many other reasons too. Another reason could be the expression of respect. It is like a European taking off their hat. The removal of shoes in a place of worship is considered as exhibition of humbleness in the Sanatana dharma tradition. We must respect that tradition. We remove shoes before entering a Hindu temple in order to pay appropriate respect to the deity within the temple.”
“Oh, yes, right. I didn’t think that way…”
“When I go inside my house, the first thing I do is removing my chappals and changing clothes. I am not comfortable wearing too many clothes inside my house – I won’t feel home with the same dress I wear outside. I wear only a single dhoti. No shirts. This has been our tradition for last 5000 years and I earnestly follow it inside the house.”
“I know that. My father and grandfather didn’t wear upper clothes inside our compound. However now-a-days we can see Hindus wearing even overcoat inside the home,” he said.
“You should feel home and comfortable inside the God’s abode (devalaya) or place of worship which is considered holy. Our body cells should experience the direct contact with such holy place and should feel home, relaxed. That could even randomly invoke the memories of our ancestors who spent their life in building such temples in the cells. Those memories and your devotion together develop an emotion-of-sort that you would get inside the temple. So in old traditional temples you are required to remove upper cloth (your shirt and t-shirt) and wear only Dhoti. So it is not just footwear that needs to be removed. If you don’t like such things, well, nobody is compelling you to go to temple.”
“Yes, Udayji, I have also noticed that. But upper clothes are not removed in the modern temples and those temples in North India…”
“During foreign invasions thouands of temples were destroyed in North India. Hence, most of the temples in north India are not ancient and were built at a later time. Unlike those in South, there are only few ancient temples are remaining in the whole of North India. Hence lots of traditions related to temples are lost. But that is not our subject here, right?”
“Yes, what could be the other reasons for not wearing shoes and foot wear”
“You can see most of the temple premises are surrounded by dirt, mud, wet wastages, shit of human and animals – in general temple surrounding are unclean. But there are many people who are prostrating inside temple and falling down on temple ground. So we need to take care of their health, their dress etc. We need to make a ‘swachh’ temple. So it is a courtesy to our fellow devotees not taking external dirt inside the temple by wearing the same footwear”
“Ah, that’s a good point”
“Hinduism considers human being is just another creature in the eco-chain. So ancient Hindus had considered cattle and cow as important as humans. Generally footwear is made up of leather. Leather comes from a cow! Any leather product involves a considerable amount of violence, killing, hurt and pain and hence, it is not allowed inside a temple. Hence it is considered to be an impure thing and inauspicious.”
“Yes, most shoes are made of leather, which is against the Hindu provision of “ahimsa” or nonviolence. And even though Hindus may eat meat today, they won’t disrespect a place of worship by wearing something made of leather to a temple. But, Udayji what about plastic and rubber footwear too…”
“Again, Hinduism gives utmost importance to nature and its environment. Can you tell me a single invention of our ancients here which is not good for the nature? Should I explain more on plastic and treated rubber?”
“No Udayji, I understand your points.”
“There could be other reasons too. But you will have to search and enquire. These are the logic that came to my mind when you asked such a question…”
“Yeah, I know. In all your articles you maintained that all Vedic rituals are scientific…”
“Not all. We do not know or understand many things today. Lot of things have changed. Since Vedic Sanskrit is different from today’s Sanskrit we do not even understand the meaning of many things mentioned there. Some some rituals may look irrelevant today. Most of our rituals are scientific. However, removing your footwear is NOT a ritual. It’s a precedence. But you can easily find acceptable universal reason or logic behind it. So when you teach your children about our tradition explain it in a logical and scientific way. Please do not use fake science like positive energy…” I requested to him.
“Yes, I understand. In fact, whenever we cannot explain we will put in some positive energy or negative energy…Now I understand…Is there any mentioning about not wearing footwear inside temples in Vedas?”
“There were NO temples during Vedic times. I am not an expert in Vedas. According to my memory, Angiras Smriti also says it is better to remove footwear before entering the house in which you have lighted lamp in pooja room or in the presence of a Deity, or a Brahmana (reverend scholar), and before taking his meals, or reciting the Gayatri. However, an Agnihotri (i.e., who maintains the Sacred Fires), an ascetic, one who has completely-studied the Vedas; these may go there with [their] sandals on,” I said.
“Is it just Hindu tradition?”
“I don’t think so. I have noticed that in Islam and Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism, it is a practice to remove footwear. To best of my knowledge, the Japanese also remove their footwear before entering ANY home or place of worship. Footwear is removed before you enter temples in Thailand too.”
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