An identity so recognisable in its treading of the global fore even when taking off with the Indian footsteps, and as relevant in the times of today despite its emergence centuries back, prevailing in its traditional image but adhering still to the requirements of modernity whether it be in regards to its design and style or in terms of comfort and usability, Kolhapuri chappals instantly strike a foot tapping familiarity in every of its very ubiquitous mentions. A craft so iconic that occurs as almost a symbol, albeit specific, in the whole ambit of the Indian heritage, resting today thus in a distinction in geography as evident from the very identity of it in all proclamatory assertion and earning by that status the coveted geographical indication tag- such is the flight of fancy that the Kolhapuri has been taking ever since it emerged as a craft in the 12th century.
The reason why Kolhapuri chappals came to be associated with that definite identity of the regional is easy indeed to decipher. Unique to the region of Kolhapur in the Indian state of Maharashtra but also interestingly pursued a craft in some parts of the far removed Karnataka state down south is the Kolhapuri chappal that has had a long legacy of taking after the many a places where it had been manufactured at some point of time in history.
Kapashi, Paytaan, Kachkadi, Bakkalnali, and Pukri thus had been alternate identities of the now eponymous Kolhapuri, produced as it was in the namesake towns when the King Bijjala and his prime minister Basavanna encouraged the production of this form of footwear as an attempt in supporting the local cobblers. Worn since the early 13th century by the Saudagars of Maharashtra, the exclusivity of Kolhapuris characterise the entirety of their essence and not just the expanse of their coming into existence.
Exclusively hand crafted in utter adherence to the process of the traditional and maintaining all authenticity of what it has long been, true therefore to the humble essence of it and manifesting by that account the charm through which it essentially exudes all attributes in style and aesthetics, comfort and conduciveness to exhibit its nature in all versatility, every single specimen of the Kolhapuri naming asserts as an unique emergence in and by itself.
Decorative enough a piece of footwear to effectively cater to the fashion flair and in dimensions that sum up in all ease the feet of men and women alike and accrues also to the defining desires in traditional wear and modern pairing with equal conviction, even creating in the process a style in fusion that is appealing in its own distinctive might, this category of slippers- chappals to be as Indian as possible- is flattering in a manner that does not even hinge on a conscious attempt at style. And it perhaps is in this particular characteristic trait of the Kolhapuri that this casual slip on of ’em shoes asserts itself in the most amazing way possible- of being almost a daily therapy for the feet.
Classifying as pure leather slippers, made as they are of cow or buffalo hide and thread with absolutely nothing finding way in the manufacturing process that do not add up to the immensely wonderful way it presents in being a happy tripping around for your feet, is the Kolhapuri chappal that though is a tremendous activity in crafting. Exclusively hand made by the most skilled of artisans having acquired the expertise and knowledge of the heritage art as a treasure inherited and taking up considerable amount of time indeed in the elaborate process and manifold steps of manufacturing, that which involves skiving, pattern making and cutting, attachment of upper and bottom heels, stitching, finishing, punching and trrimming, decoration and Polishing, and assembling, it is no wonder that Kolhapuris turn up as that sturdy make of the footwear platform bearing potential enough to last for almost a lifetime when presenting as delicate a vision when it comes to raving about the pretty looks of them.
Striking for sure in their assertion markedly different from the ‘regular’ sandals and slippers mass produced and mass marketed are these Kolhapuris today available in varieties that sport ethnic patterns and conventional motifs with elan. In their appearance that can be designed as as chic or as ordinary as desired, catering therefore to requirements of casual and daily use or offering instead their resplendence as occasional wear, these durable but soft mounts for the feet tend to be traditionally not so tantalising in their color scheme. Adhering to the muted tints of the tan but with a very interesting element of a red fur ball in the center of the intricately threaded woven flap, it is the very nature of the Kolhapuri to come across as distinct even in its subdued sense of the hues. And only furthering this vividness of the Kolhapuris in manners that make them multi wonder staples of the present day fashion scene are such interpretations of them that up the measure of their outstandingness.
Most of the comfort of Kolhapuri sandals that we have been reiterating about all through derives indeed from the naturalness of them. That is to say, Kolhapuris derive their innate ‘goodness’ from them being products stemming out of all things exclusively natural. Be it in the pure leather construct of them or their tanning using only vegetable dyes with absolutely no chemicals to take into account, these are footwear beneficial not just for us humans but also helping the environment in all their eco friendliness.
And it is exactly this premise upon which Kolhapuris come to chart their characteristic cushioning in comfort. Even stitching the leather pieces together to make up this essential style in utmost simplicity relies on a form of soft leather, completely eliminating the scope for using any nails or such pointy agents in holding the essence of them. Void therefore of the discomfort of the pricks and the stings while doing away with even trace possibilities of harbouring any allergens subject as they are to another intensive process in cleaning and processing and polishing, every pair of Kolhapuri chappals turns up as the ultimate embodier of featherlight smoothness that makes walking them a breeze indeed. And why just general comfort, Kolhapuris also attend specifically to the cause of keeping the feet cool and of course breathing by virtue of its very design that traditionally manifests in an open toe style.
Vegetable tanned and 100% pure a leather product is the Kolhapuri that retains its natural sweat absorbing capacity for impeccable cooling of the feet even when you have to ‘rough use’ them out throughout the day. This means that these sandals of heritage pride end up absorbing indeed the body’s sweat and heat but this translates also to a very long drawn benefit upon the human body. Helping regulate thus the body temperature is this organic, local and artistic mode of strutting about in flaunting for sure the immense elegance afforded by its aesthetics, summing up in the process a fashion statement that so syncs in with the ultimate desire for carefree convenience and stylish sensibilities moulded into one.
Unique as it is, even the style assertion of the Kolhapuri happens to be more regal than refined, but absolutely real though nonetheless. Equally steeped deep in the alleys of the traditional is this variant of footwear essentially featuring a T strap with two side flaps called Kanwali in the local language, making for a very distinguishable relaying in style terms what exactly Kolhapuris are. Interestingly as well, while the Kolhapuris we so unanimously love flaunting today are very lightweight and flat and thin in their soles, the beginnings of this chappal had been rather weighted.
Back when they were originally sold in front of the famous Kolhapuri Mahalakshmi temple some 700 years back, these were immensely thick soled sandals that weighed upto a whopping 2 kilos each! Water proof and heat resistant still much like the ones of today not losing out on that aspect in essence, the ‘actual’ Kolhapuris encompassed this enormous measure in thickness to cater to such demands that called for being able to withstand the rugged mountains of Maharashtra. Over time, the physical attributes of such consideration of these traditionally crafted footwear might have been toned down but the ‘weight’ of them indeed in their dignified dwelling on the horizons of the Indian heritage has only expanded.
Why just the dynamics in measurement though, even the varied styles and types of the Kolhapuri have come to take over the one universal mode of its prevalence in utmost authenticity. With assertions today as diversive as the kapshi and kurundawadi and shahu for men and the chepli and mayuri and angutha patta for women with even specific bachkani zarigonda and pawra being custom catering for kids, Kolhapuris have only grown over the years in both their stature and status and of course in their reach.
Globally fancied as well while continuing to be one of the definite elements of awe among a melange of such similar wonders characterising the Indian scene of the traditional arts and crafts of very utilitarian essence, these sandals stand today on their own in being the furtherer of the national identity even in their regional stance being limited substantially by issues galore. From a dispute over raw materials to returns not commensurate with the demanding exertion of them and so on and so forth, the strut of the Kolhapuri faces many a challenges indeed. How it manages to challenge instead these trying times makes for the intriguing exploration here, all of course mounted on the chappal’s own versatility in running parallel to serving the needs expected out of it.