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Customs and traditions are not uncommon in India. In the Indian culture, specifically in the Hindu culture, visiting a temple is considered a very auspicious event, and often is done on a daily basis.
Some common rituals when visiting a temple include offering some sweets and flowers to the idol. Women are required to cover the heads with a cloth or dupatta. There is another very important ritual before one enters a temple; removing one’s shoes! The Japanese also remove their footwear before entering any home or place of worship. These practices are simply a way of showing respect to God.
There is a spiritual and psychological reason for removing shoes before entering a temple. When visiting a temple, a person may be in a disturbed state of mind. Being barefoot allows the worshiper to be in ‘direct contact’ with the aura of the temple and the idol. Since our feet touch the floor of the temple, this ritual also allows the person to better absorb the blessings from God. Many people also remove any riches and materialistic items from their body, so as to offer God their truest devotion. This makes us all equal in the temple, just as we actually are in the eyes of God. It is also believed that temples have a channel of positive and cleansing energy, which enters our bodies when we are barefoot.
Often, temple floors are covered in turmeric and sindoor, which is considered to be therapeutic when we walk barefoot on it, as it enhances our mental and spiritual health.
In the Indian culture, our foreheads are considered to be the highest point of the body (in the spiritual sense), while feet are considered to be the lowest part of the body. And so, since our feet come in contact with the ground, and often come in contact with mud and dirt in the surroundings, removing our footwear is done to keep the temple clean and pure. Removing shoes before entering a temple helps to maintain the sanctity of the temple.
It is a mark of respect, and this is also why people, especially in the Indian culture, apologise when they touch something or someone with their feet. Many people also take off their footwear while meeting elders. It is considered to be good manners, a sign of being a respectable person.
Another reason why shoes are removed before entering a temple is that often shoes are made of leather, which is made of animal skin. Since Hinduism promotes nonviolence and reprimands harm to others, even animals, wearing leather products, inside a temple is considered as a violation of the religion and the individual is seen to be as disobeying the general ‘dictum’ of the temple.
This is also the reason why people remove their footwear when they sit for any pooja or any religious event. Those who consider themselves be extremely traditional also remove their leather belts and wallets during such rituals.