Mark, a friend of mine from United Kingdom, walked straight into my living room with his shoes on. I was surprised and shocked, angered and left frustrated. I was looking at the dirt marks made by his shoes on the clean carpet that stretched to the four corners of the floor. He realized that I was looking intensely at him. Without any hesitation he asked, “Hey, is there something wrong?”
I made him feel comfortable, “Oh! Everything is fine. I am glad you accepted my invitation to come to my house.” In fact, I was angered by his attitude. I even had a sign outside my house that read, “We welcome your soul, not your shoes” and yet, he did not notice it, or he ignored it. He made me realize for the first time that not all people in this world take their shoes off before they enter the house. “How can people wear shoes inside their house?” I thought.
Most of the Asian nations like Japan, China, Nepal and India have the tradition of taking shoes off before entering the house. The traditional houses have a rack for shelving shoes outside the door. Hindu people have been highly influenced by this tradition. While there can be several reasons for taking shoes off before entering the house, the religion in these countries plays a major role for this tradition. Health benefits are important too.
However, health benefits of not wearing shoes may have been the least considered factors when Hindu people made it a religious norm to take shoes off before entering houses. Major reasons are religious rather than health. Hindu people believe that gods reside in their house. Hindu people have some sort of prayer rooms within their house. This implies that they regard their houses as the temples. Hence, entering houses in shoes is not an acceptable norm. So, if one is to step inside the house in their shoes, it is a sign of disrespect to the god. And, it is this fear of angering the god that forbids Hindu people from entering houses in shoes.
Furthermore, Hindu people believe in non-violence. It is against the religion to kill animals whether it is for food or for other purposes. And shoes are generally made out of leather which is regarded as an impure substance by the Hindu religion. Even the people who work in shoe factories are considered as being inferior. So, most of the Hindu people do not want impure substances within their home. There are people who still believe in this reason, and those people do not even wear leather clothes.
Moreover, Hindu people respect rice. Rice is a staple food in the countries like India and Nepal. Many people use the straw of rice plants to make mats. And, these mats are stretched on the floors in the houses. So, they do not want to dirty the mats, which are made from the plant they respect so much. They sit on the floors covered by the mats. They even make their beds on the floors and sleep on the floors. If they bring their shoes inside the houses, they would be dirtying the mats or even their beds at times. So, it would be good even from the health aspect to take shoes off before entering the house.
There are other reasons to support the health benefits arising from this tradition in India and Nepal. The climate in these countries is hot and humid for some of the months. Generally, the roads are muddy when it rains and dusty when the sun is shining. Many people walk to their workplace or take public transport. Hence, they are likely to gather a lot of dirt and even pesticides on their shoes. So, if one is to walk into the house with those dirty shoes, one would have to clean the house many times a day to keep it hygienic. Moreover, the people in this region are poor. They cannot afford to clean houses many times a day. The use of a vacuum cleaner is rare. Many houses are not made of concrete; they are made of mud and bricks. So, it is hard to clean houses if one is to walk inside with dirty shoes.
However, these are not the only reasons. When exposed to air, sufficient air can circulate around the feet creating a soothing experience. One can stretch his legs and have a good exercise of toes. It gives a sense of relaxation and freedom to the feet. “I feel relaxed when I am without shoes,” says Mahesh from Nepal, who is currently studying in U.S.A. He further says,” We take off shoes because it is good for our health.”
Whatever the reasons are, there are certain benefits of not wearing shoes inside the house. Though one may lose the comfort and convenience of walking inside the houses on shoes, it is certainly good for our health. However, Hindu people do not take their shoes off for health reasons alone, but also to show respect to the god.