Pulhoer: Our Traditional Footwear

Made of grass, it was slip resistant
"The beauty of this unique pulhoer prompted me to write this column." [Representational Image]
"The beauty of this unique pulhoer prompted me to write this column." [Representational Image] File/GK

Writing about anonymous sufi saints of Kashmir is my interest. Recently, I visited the shrine of Hazrat Qadir Saeb Hiri (RA), a towering sufi saint of his times. I came across an old man there who was wearing a traditional grass sleeper; called a “pulhoer” in Kashmiri language.

Probably the man is making these traditional Kashmiri chappals for his own use. While I was keenly observing this unique footwear, the man smiled and gifted me one pair.

I wore it and felt amazed. The beauty of this unique pulhoer prompted me to write this column. I felt, it is something that deem to be our heritage. The fascinating advantage of the “pulhoer’ is that it does not slip, neither on mud nor on ice. Hence was very comfortable with ancient life style.

Pulhoer variously spelled pulhoor or pulhor, is an ancient traditional straw footwear of Kashmir, bearing similarities with chappal, sandals or slippers.

The tradition of wearing shoes in Kashmir started with this Pulhoer. The Kashmiris were using “Pulhor” (a slipper made of grass) instead of boot or a chappal made of leather, rubber or plastic.

They were widely used by the people of Kashmir in ancient times especially during harsh winters. The pulhoer was one of the traditional tools for dealing with the cold of Kashmir’s winter, like “kangar”, the portable heating-pot, and the coatlike garment called “pheran”.

Pulhoer was primarily used by people to protect their feet from snow, thorns and pebbles due to poverty and unavailability of modern foot wear.

But since there was a lack of modern garments, people also used them for protection against thorny bushes and pebbles in forests; However, they are unstable or unusable in the rainy season due to flow of rain through their pores.

According to Dr Rafeeq Masoodi, former secretary Cultural Academy & ADG, DD, “ Pulhour was not only used by all Kashmiri men & women but also by outsiders who wanted to climb snow clad mountains. The modern day slippers and other footwear are just imitation of it.”

When development reached to its peak the era of our traditional Pulhoer reached to its end. But still there are some old people who make this pulhoer for their own use.

It is made of straw rope with a compact sole and a few straps to tie these to the feet. The scratchy strings of pulhoer  would leave marks on the feet. “During rains, water would seep through the pores, leaving the pulhoer unusable. It was easy-to make and was easily available.

“Some 45 to 50 years back we had house roofs made up of grass, and those days snowfall too was very huge. So much that the 1st  storey of houses was blocked and people used windows instead of doors and this “pulhoer” was very useful in those conditions. Since roofs were grass- toped, people had to clear these roofs, and this slipper was  amust as it did not slip.

The availability of durable and better choices of shoes and the financial prosperity heralded the demise of our various traditional things and this “pulhoer too met the same fate. But there are some old people who still are trying to keep alive this centuries old tradition of Kashmir.

Sir Walter Lawrance has talked about this foot wear and the Kashmiri proverb associated with it.

Pulhoer was also used by our iconic sufi saints. Such artefacts are ethnographic and anthropological representation of Kashmiri culture.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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