Kolhapuri Chappals : Tracing the Footprints of Maharashtra’s Iconic Footwear

Kolhapuri Chappals1

In Indian culture, the foot is regarded as an object of veneration. Worship is offered and obeisance paid to elders, religious heads and idols with the ceremonial washing of the feet. Wrongdoers crave forgiveness by falling at the feet of the aggrieved. Removing one’s footwear before entering a home or a temple before worship denotes a sign of respect, humility and submissiveness. Drama and poetry transforms the foot of the beloved into an object of love. It is believed that one of the earliest examples of footwear worn on the Indian subcontinent is a sandal of wood, datable to 200 BC. The paduka or toe-knob sandals were usually worn by ascetics and mendicants. In its crudest form, it is roughly cut in the shape of a foot, and has a knob that is held between the first and second toe. Later, elaborate designs were carved on precious wood, ivory and metals, including silver and brass, and inlaid with gold and silver wire, and they became votive objects of veneration for devotees. The Indian traditional shoes form an integral part of the craft structure and like most traditional craft skills, the knowledge is passed on from one generation to another. Maharashtra was famous for double-toed shoes or marhattis, Lucknow for its gold-embroidered shoes, ornamented slippers were made in Rajputana, and Molkalmuru in Mysore was famous for a special kind of slipper. The Kolhapuri Chappals are India’s famous handcrafted footwear which was initially designed on the Kolhapur town of Maharashtra.

Durable, Sturdy & Comfortable

Kolhapuri Chappals are known for their durability, sturdiness and comfort to wear. They are eco friendly and because of their quality and unique traditional designs, Kolhapuri chappals are still widely accepted and in great demand.


The Making of Kolhapuri Chappals

The chappals are made from leather which is processed and grazed to make it hard enough for daily use. The grazing makes the chappals more sturdy and durable for daily use that it can withstand the wear and tear. These handmade leather footwear are then tanned using vegetable dyes. As only natural colours are used for dyeing these chappals, it can be worn without fear of allergies. They are often dipped in diesel to make the hue even darker and thus richer in appeal.


Artisans use templates for making a basic design which is then cut on the processed leather. This cut piece is dipped in natural colours or dyes. Then the upper part of the Kolhapuri Chappals and the sole are stitched with leather cords. Once they are joined, the outer decorations and designs are made which gives these chappals a trendy look. The sole of the chappals is made of two or more leather pieces which are pasted and stitched together to give extra strength. The men cut, scrape and hammer sheets of leather while their wives do the braiding, stitching and punching. Not a single iron nail is used in this process and that’s what makes the chappals unique.

Kolhapuri Chappal Handcrafted


Sizing Issues Faced Earlier

The artisans did not have a standard pattern of sizing. They used fingers and hand for sizing. This results in inconsistent sizing of footwear. The sides were cut when the semi wet condition of leather. Due to this chappals shrink resulting in smaller sizes and fits. This has recently changed with the introduction of standard sizing for the products.

Kolhapuri Sizing

Paradoxical Gain in Popularity

The art of making the Kolhapuri chappals may be in danger of being wound up. The artisans who make the chappals in Kolhapur and neighbouring areas have become old and their children do not want to carry on the tradition of stitching them. The process of silaai (stitching) is difficult and time consuming. In Mumbai, artisans just prefer to stick them together with glue and save time and labour which makes the chappals lose their charm.


Kolhapuri Chappals Contemporary

The Kolhapuri chappals are still popular because of the intricacy in the craftsmanship and also due to the fact that it goes well with any outfit. It is comfortable, sturdy, trendy as well as cost effective. Adorned with gold cord, zari strips, pom poms or gota, they are now making a fashionable statement. Fashionistas are pairing them up with jeans, linen pants or even dresses to give the desi twist to their attire.

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