Ganapati idols made of different materials in two sections of an establishment run by Central Cottage Industries Corporation

Looking for handicrafts? Tips on identifying and buying an authentic piece

Always buy from a reputable outlet, not from trinket shops outside tourist spots; remember that the beauty in a genuine piece lies in its flaws, unlike a machine-made copy

Namrata Kohli | New Delhi

Recently craft crusaders called out a famous fashion designer (Sabyasachi) for digitizing Sanganer block prints and there were headlines screaming “What Sabya owes Sanganer”. Patrons of handicrafts felt he was too focussed on promoting himself for his special collection for an international brand (H&M) and nearly hijacked the story of India’s rich heritage weaved by the artisans and karigar community, their art form and livelihood. According to founder of Dilli Haat Jaya Jaitly who leads a handicraft initiative- Dastkari Haat Samiti, “My noise with Sabyasachi was on why he took over the karigaar’s work and digitized it. Collaboration is one thing but digitizing it, is to take it completely out of the hands of the karigar, with technology. Like that China has been copying the benarasi and the bandhini.” She bemoans that sometimes we are very casual about our own culture, let it go waste, don’t value it enough but craft is our identity which we shouldn’t take so lightly. Most industrial societies don’t have anything like this and find this unique and exotic.

What is handicraft?

Simply put, handicraft is any object that is crafted by skilled hands. These unique items represent the culture, heritage, and tradition of a particular region that have different social, aesthetic, and religious values. Numerous traditional techniques are applied including painting, hand dyeing, handloom weaving, woodblock, etc.

The market size of the handicrafts and handlooms sector in India is around USD3.40 billion in FY2021, according to TechSci Research. Some of the important categories are woodware, embroidered crocheted goods, hand printed textiles and scarves, imitation jewellery, art metal wares. Handicraft includes anything that is handcrafted or made by using hands or with minimum use of any hand tool which includes handloom too. So a loom can be of two types: handloom (hand operated) and power loom (automated) on which the fabric is made. But handloom products are also considered as handicraft such as pochampally ikkat, patan patola sarees or kullu shawls.

Why handicraft?

There is beauty in handcrafted items. Noted Indian designer, scenographer Padma Bhushan Rajeev Sethi says- “In traditional Indian pedagogy, the hand is the supreme instrument. India is still the most hand-skilled nation in a world of rapidly de-skilling communities. Haath bana Hastinapur… ungli paanch Pandava.. There is a direct connection of formation of the hand and the brain. Almost all the points are pavilions that connect you with the brain itself. No one else can do this. A monkey can’t do this since he has a smaller thumb and larger palm.” He adds that the aesthetics of the weaver in India are amazing and we are lucky to have these handwoven garments. Every person who makes Madhubani, he imbues it with a certain character, a special something, a part of his soul, a personal signature, a little extra from his end into his work. Just like a raag in music. The structure may be the same but every singer adds his own style. That is the benefit and speciality of human art. Building your own and sharing it with the world.

Why handicraft is expensive

Did you know a Kani Jamawar Kashmiri handwoven shawl can take up to three years to make? Take the case of phulkari dupatta which takes minimum 30-60 days to embroider. According to Kirandeep Kaur, founder of Punjabi concept store 1469, “Depending on the time devoted by the artisan and intricacy of the design, it takes more than a month to make a dupatta. As women spare time from their day-to-day activities to make the dupattas for us, we don’t insist on fast production. The historical essence of embroidering with love and blessings will be maintained only when they are given time and patience to create these treasures. On the other hand, the machine-made dupattas are made in factories by operators- sometimes they may not be even made in Punjab nor made as a handicraft. But the people who understand the technique and sweat involved in handwork value it and are willing to pay without any bargain.” How would you know the difference? Often, a layman cannot differentiate. One has to check the back of the dupatta to check the stitch. The handmade dupatta is much lighter than the machine-made one, and the latter is usually done on a mixed fabric like polyester that can withstand so much thread combination on it. Handmade phulkari bagh is expensive at Rs 6,500-9,000 while a machine-made version comes at a price range of Rs 2,500-4,000.

Bestselling products

At Delhi’s cottage emporium, the bestselling products are the art pieces and idols made in metal. Value wise, it’s the silver metal gaining traction while volume wise, brass and copper. Often these are created by national awardees, Kabir awardees, state awardees and everyone including foreigners love idols especially Buddha.

Wood, especially sandalwood, finds favour with the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. Vriksh certification is issued to authenticate that the wood is genuine and legal. Tea hampers are also lapped up by foreigners.

And what about fellow Indians? Mahendra V S Negi, Managing Director Central Cottage Industries Corporation of India Ltd shares his experience on Indians, “I would say the lower middle class and below want Chinese, and the cheapest. Whereas the middle-class lives on thrift, spends most on education, or roti kapda makaan, but it’s the aspirational middle class that loves to have handicrafts as objects of desire- If they can’t have the best genuine thing, they want to have a fake thing. If you can’t have authentic benarasi saree for 80 k then have the fake one for 8 k. But for the rich and the upper class, these are again statement pieces.”

Craft crusaders advocate the use of handicraft for daily use and not just for decoration. I would wish it went beyond decoration, says Jaya Jaitly. She says handicraft basically and essentially was always utilitarian and not luxury –that is not what Indian culture is all about– take the case of brass vessels or terracotta. The whole of Kerala used to cook their rice in terracotta vessels. Nagaland cooks in wooden kitchen utensils, ladles and spoons- all these are eco-friendlier, employment friendly and utilitarian. Even the idol that we keep at homes is for daily prayer and not sajawat. Nonetheless, the interest in handicrafts has grown substantially. Youth are taking keen interest in India’s craft stories. No wonder, just before the pandemic Dilli Haat clocked sales worth Rs 6.5 crore in two weeks.

How to choose

One of the most credible places to purchase handicraft products are the State emporium, Cottage Emporium, Dilli haat and Craft Museum and such like. The government has taken certain measures to distinguish genuine products from spurious ones. Tags certifying authenticity have been assigned, based on industry. Handloom mark, Woolmark, Silkmark, Seal of Cotton and Craftmark correspond to the handloom, wool, silk, cotton and handicraft industries respectively. It is up to the customer to inspect a product closely to determine its origin.

A good practice is to buy from organisations who follow Fair Trade Norms. Take handloom for instance. There are few ways to distinguish between authentic silk and synthetic polyester fabric. One way is by burning a single fibre from the cloth. If the thread leaves a plastic-like residue behind, you know you have a saree made of polyester. But a thread that vanishes entirely, without a trace, is testimony of pure silk or cotton fabric.

There are aesthetic differences too. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that handloom weaves, though meticulous, are not always even. The beauty of handicraft is in its unevenness just like human beings- beautiful and yet imperfect. Only machines can be perfect.

When you travel, refrain from buying from touristy places-those small shops outside forts, palaces, mandirs, on the Mall road at hill station are quite avoidable. Cottage Emporium’s Mahendra Negi advises, “If you are traveling and have time, try and get to the actual maker – not those retail points where the tour operator will take you. I would even say that in today’s globalized world it is possible that you may not even travel and still be able to get the most authentic stuff sitting in your home. Aggregators and artisans have their own websites and they even have a return policy. Don’t be compelled to buy that simply because I have come to Nagaland, I must buy a Naga shawl. You may get a better deal sitting in your home.” Also go for places where the difference between original, hybrid version and replica is “declared’- he says at his Cottage Emporium, the best wool carpets come from Badoi, durries from Mirzapur. The most expensive ones are handmade and have pure wool or silk on silk; then comes the medium range which have wool plus viscose and the machine-made ones with synthetic. But there are many shops where this goes undeclared. Go for transparency, certifications and credible stores for handicraft.

Table: Indicative price list and origin of various types of handicrafts



State of origin

Price range (Rs)

Metal Craft


Tamil Nadu



Uttar Pradesh


Papier Mache

Papier Mache Handicrafts




Blue Pottery



Khurja Pottery

Uttar Pradesh


Studio Art Pottery

Uttar Pradesh


Semi-Precious & Soft Stone Pottery



Silver Craft

Filigree Craft



Silver Enamel



Wood Craft

Kadam Wood Craft



Painted Wood Craft



Sandalwood Craft

Andhra Pradesh & Rajasthan


Sheesham Wood Inlay Work

Delhi and Rajasthan



Saharanpur Wooden Toys

Uttar Pradesh


Lucknow Mud Dolls

Uttar Pradesh


Glass Toys



Chennapatnam Toys



Varanasi Lacquerware Toys

Uttar Pradesh


Lac Toys



Musical Toys



Education Toys



Stuff Toys




Green Tea

West Bengal


Masala Tea



White Tea

West Bengal


Kahwa Tea







Table Linen

Uttar Pradesh



Sheesham Wood




Rajasthan & UP


Teak Wood




Silk Carpet



Woollen Carpet

Uttar Pradesh


Zardozi Carpet

Uttar Pradesh


Woollen Modern Carpet

Uttar Pradesh



Cotton Saree

UP, West Bengal


Silk Handwoven Saree



Ikat Saree

Andhra Pradesh



Cotton Bedspread




Woollen Shawl

Kashmir & Gujarat


Pashmina Shawls (Cashmere)



Credits: TechSci Research

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