Paper, Feet, and Buddha in Nepali Culture

Context: I is a middle aged Nepali man working as a banker. He told me about the importance of keeping feet away from paper in Nepali culture while at a coffeeshop.

A prevalant Nepali tradition or belief is not stepping on paper. Paper, since it is the basis of writing, represents education as a whole. Many of the Nepali gods are also manifested in a physical sheet of paper, as it symbolizes the god of knowledge in a nation where education is highly valued. It is therefore regarded as very pure and respected by the people.

Feet, on the other hand, are very often seen as the dirtiest part of the body. Coming home, it is not uncommon for people to wash their feet straight away. Therefore, touching anything with one’s feet is often seen as disrespecting it, and moreso for a piece of paper. It is highly frowned upon to touch paper with one’s feet.

If one does somehow manage to touch a piece of paper with their feet, there is a way to reconcile this disrespectful act. In Nepali culture, it is commonplace to touch your head to someone that you deeply respect, almost like a more physical bow. So if one accidentally steps on a piece of paper, they must take it and tap it on their head to atone for their mistake. This concept of touching one’s head to something in respect is seen in other places as well. In the presence of very respected elders or royalty, it is traditional to bow and touch their feet with one’s head to signify deep reverence for them.