Why do we not touch papers, books and people with the feet?


In Indian homes, we are taught from a very young age never to touch papers, books and people with our feet. If the feet accidentally touch papers, books, musical instruments or any other educational equipment, children are told to reverentially touch what was stamped with their hands and then touch their eyes as a mark of apology. Why?

To Indians, knowledge is sacred and divine. So it must be given respect at all times. Nowadays we separate subjects as sacred and secular. But in ancient India every subject -academic or spiritual was considered divine and taught by the Guru in the gurukula.

The custom of not stepping on educational tools is a frequent reminder of the high position accorded to knowledge in Indian culture. Thus knowledge, a knowledgeable person, learning materials, the source of knowledge and the deity of knowledge, all are considered worshipful. From an early age, this wisdom fosters in us a deep reverence for books and education. This is also the reason why we worship books, vehicles and instruments once a year on Saraswati Puja or Ayudha Pooja day, dedicated to the Goddess of Learning. So, each day before starting our studies, we pray:

सरस्वति नमस्तुभ्यं वरदे कामरूपिणी !
विद्यारंभं करिष्यामि सिधिर्भवतु मे सदा !!

sarasvati mamas-tubhyam varade kaania roopini,
Vidyaarambham karishyaami sidhir-bhiavatu me sadaa.

O Goddess Sarasvati, the giver ofboons and fulfiller of wishes,
I prostrate to You before starting my studies, May You always fulfill me.

Children are also strongly. discouraged from touching people with their feet. Even if this happens accidentally, we touch the person and bring the fingers to our eyes as a mark of apology. Even when elders touch a younger person inadvertently with their feet, they immediately apologize. To touch another with the feet is considered an act of misdemeanor. Why is this so?

Man is regarded as the most beautiful, living, breathing temple of the Lord! Therefore touching another with the feet is akin to disrespecting the divinity Within him or her. This calls for an immediate apology, which is offered with reverence and humility.

Thus, many of our customs are designed to be simple but powerful reminders or pointers of profound philosophical truths. This is one of the factors that has kept Indian culture alive across centuries ‘ ‘

Swami Vimalananda, Radhika Krishnakumar, Chinmaya Mission

Excerpts from: In Indian Culture Why Do We?


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