The foot has had religious and social significance in India since ancient times. Deities are represented by a set of divine footprints on items ranging from paintings and woven shawls to amulets—ornaments that are worn to protect the wearer. The feet of older people are revered by youth, lovers show their affection for each other by caressing each other's feet, and Indian mothers take special care of their babies' feet by massaging them. Indians have decorated their feet since the first Indus Valley civilization—which flourished along the Indus River in modern-day Pakistan—in 2500 b.c.e.
Men, women, and children in India all wear anklets. Anklets are not only decorative but meaningful. In the past, rulers often rewarded noblemen, landlords, or local officials with a present of a valuable anklet. And women in some regions of India wore anklets to show their marital status. Today, there remain many different varieties of anklets worn throughout India. The anklets of common people are mostly made of silver or brass, but the wealthy wear gold anklets studded with jewels.
While men and women wear anklets, usually only women's feet are decorated in their entirety. Women dye the soles of their feet red and, especially for their wedding day, have intricate designs of mehndi, or traditional henna stains, applied to the tops of their feet. Some women tattoo designs of fish, scorpions, or peacocks, which have special erotic meanings, on the tops of their feet and other parts of their body. In addition to several anklets, women also wear foot ornaments that decorate the tops of their feet and several toe rings that are sometimes connected to anklets by decorative chains. Foot decoration among Indian women remains so important in Indian culture that many women, with the exception of those living in modern cities, continue to go barefoot quite often.
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[See also Volume 1, India: Henna Stains ; Volume 1, India: Jewelry ]