Thanks to booming digital commerce, a wave of fake Paithani sarees are flooding the South Asian and global markets. In turn, this surge is threatening the livelihood of the traditional handloom Paithani industry. But do you know how to identify a cheap, convincing lookalike?
To identify a real handwoven Paithani saree, inspect its designs on both sides. They must be mirror images of one other. A saree with visible threads on its reverse side proves it was machine-made and, thus, a fake. A genuine Paithani also uses specific colors (blue, purple, magenta) and is heavy.
These are only a few features of a genuine Paithani saree. But since real and fake sarees are easy to confuse, the last thing you want is to waste your money on one that’s not real.
Keep reading to learn the key signs of an authentic Paithani.
What Is a Paithani Saree?
The Paithani is one of the most expensive pure silk sarees in India. Locals fondly call it the “Queen of Sarees” because they consider it one of their nation’s royal sarees, as it is a symbol of Indian honor and tradition. It represents wealth and elegance among Indian women, who pass it on as an heirloom to their daughters at their weddings.
The handcrafted silk Paithani saree takes its name from Paithan. That’s a section of Aurangabad in Maharashtra (a state in western India that forms a significant part of the Deccan Plateau). To be clear, the Yeola Paithani saree is a variant from Yeola, a town in Maharashtra’s Nashik District.
The ancient Paithani has evolved through the centuries to spawn numerous variations. In fact, some limited edition Paithani sarees are handwoven with real silver or gold thread and pure silk.
Contemporary artisans experimented with different fabric bases to make the saree more accessible. Eventually, they settled on cotton as an alternative to the silk base. Thus evolved the ancient Paithani saree to its modern, more affordable equivalent. The traditional pure silk kind is still available but considerably pricier. At least, more choices exist now for the average consumer.
What Distinguishes Paithani Sarees from Other Sarees?
No two genuine Paithani sarees are the same because each one is handwoven.
A handmade Paithani saree’s quality is superior to that made using a machine called a “power loom.” Skilled weavers use power looms to simulate handcrafted sarees, even using the same motifs and colors.
What makes a real Paithani saree unique is the weaving method, the ornate designs, and its splendid latticework of gold and silver thread. These artful elements make it a much sought-after item in any Indian bride’s trousseau and the wardrobes of women of all ages in South Asian society.
A genuine Paithani saree is made of “zari” and delicate silk thread, giving it the same appearance on both sides. Zari (aka jari) is a fine silver or gold thread used in traditional Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi clothing, often as a saree brocade. Artisans weave zari into fabrics, especially silk, to create “zardozi,” intricate ornamental designs.
The handcrafted Paithani is famous worldwide for its uniqueness. What sets this saree apart is its proprietary weaving technique called the “pallav.” This method involves weaving two colored threads, producing a trademark kaleidoscope effect.
Artisans manage the entire process by hand, from the dyeing of the yarn to the actual weaving. They use handlooms to weave the saree’s main section. The pallav, with its distinct borders, is similar to tapestry weaving, one of the world’s most ancient weaving techniques.
The creation of the design and motif is also extraordinary. Weavers tie and intertwine the loom’s vertical threads called “warp” with its crosswise threads called “weft.” This ensures the similar appearance of the front and reverse sides, plus the illusion of the patterns being enchased into the fabric base.
Real vs. Fake Paithani Sarees
Modern technology has allowed saree sellers to market both online and in brick-and-mortar stores. Most retailers sell other types of sarees, too. These include silk sarees and “semi-Paithanis” (partly machine-made and handwoven) and handloom Paithanis. This allows sellers to scam customers into buying machine-woven “original Yeola Paithani sarees.”
Unfortunately, consumers can be duped into buying fake sarees because they cannot inspect it before buying. If you plan to buy a pure silk handloom Paithani saree, be aware of the distinction between a real one and a fake.
Characteristics of Genuine Paithanis Sarees
- Each traditional handcrafted Paithani is unique. The designs, though similar, always have major or minor variations. The manual nature of the pallav ensures that every piece is one-of-a-kind.
- A Paithani’s key element is its entirely handwoven border and “pallu”—the saree’s loose, decorated end worn over the shoulder or on the head.
- The pallu comes in a wide variety of designs. Motifs typical of genuine Paithanis include peacocks, parrots, vines, lotuses, and other flowers.
- The designs on the front and back sides, including the border and pallu, are identical.
- Craftspeople weave one color widthwise and another lengthwise.
- Gems and pearls line the edges of ultra-expensive Paithanis.
- Genuine Paithanis are available in both six and nine yards sharing the same characteristics and patterns.
- Real Paithanis never lose their radiance, unlike other silk sarees, thanks to the use of gold/silver thread and natural dyes and colors. This means, though, that they need more TLC than cheaper machine-created sarees.
Features of Fake Paithani Sarees
- The first telltale sign of a machine-made Paithani is the mesh of threads on its reverse side. But forgers use techniques like immaculate thread trimming to make fakes appear authentic.
- A prominent feature of the power loom variant is its perfect symmetry due to the precise reproduction of each motif. Machines are capable of producing micro-fine details like tinier motifs.
- Fake saree materials are noticeably shinier than those of real ones.
- The same design appears in an extensive, non-natural color range.
- The pallu and border colors sharply contrast with one another.
- Since power loom Paithanis are mass-produced, multiple units of the same design appear in the marketplace.
- Power loom sarees come in myriads of colors, many unrealistic.
Factors to Consider When Checking Paithani Saree Authenticity
- Material: Test the silk by removing a few strands from the warp and weft, then burn them one by one. Genuine Paithanis should smell like human hair. The scent does not necessarily mean high quality, but it certainly distinguishes the natural from the synthetic.
- Pallu: The identical front and back of Paithani sarees come from manual techniques that weavers useth handlooms.
- Border: All the borders of original Paithani sarees, even the basic versions, are done in a particularly recognizable style. This appears in variations of distinctive square or oblique designs.
- Color: Since handloom threads use natural dyes, genuine sarees are available only in specific colors. That includes blue, purple, magenta, peach-pink, red, yellow, and green. These, however, are exceptionally durable, and the sheen lasts a lifetime. Power loom Paithanis, on the other hand, are available in an extensive color spectrum.
- Weight: The addition of natural dyes (from plants, minerals, rocks), colors, and fine gold and silver thread make genuine sarees heavy. The added weight requires a lot more upkeep compared to lighter machine-manufactured sarees.
- Duration of fabrication: Each basic original Paithani saree takes one to six months to be woven on a handloom. More complicated designs require even a year or two to create. In contrast, one machine-made saree takes only five days to two weeks to be woven on a power loom, ensuring a much lower cost than its genuine counterpart.
- Cost: A basic handloom Paithani saree costs approximately Rs 8,000 to 9,000 ($110 to $123). Any Paithani falling below this price range may signal a fake.
Why Are Paithani Sarees So Expensive?
In ancient times, heirloom sarees were treated as currency because they were so expensive. Today, cotton Paithanis cost Rs 8,500 ($116) each, while silk ones start from Rs 10,000 ($137). A high-quality machine-made Banaras Paithani costs Rs 17,900 ($245). Compare this with a handloom Brocket Paithani, which retails at Rs 65,000 ($888).
The term “semi-Paithani” has recently emerged in Maharashtra. It is a machine-made Paithani costing one-fourth of the price of its handloom cousin. An example is the hybrid Dharmavaram Paithani made with “jekad,” a machine and hand technique. A quality one starts from Rs 18,000 ($246).
These factors determine the prices of handloom Paithanis:
- Color and design: Sarees with geometric motifs are cheaper than those with floral ones. The immensely popular handcrafted Bangadi Mor (featuring four peacocks and a lotus motif) is the most expensive.
- Creation time: The handwoven saree is an art masterpiece. Each one with an elaborate design takes from six months to two years to weave.
- The pallav: The 2,000-year-old weaving process uses the same technique employed on Persian carpets.
Where To Buy Genuine Paithani Sarees
- Paithani Sarees: A women’s clothing store in Yeola
- Kalakshetra Paithani: A physical store in Maharashtra
- Myntra: An online fashion retailer
- Golden Weaves: An online Paithani saree store
- Paithani Wastram: A Paithani and silk saree e-tailer
- Only Paithani: Baandal’s establishment offers a brand by Aeon Consultants. It sells Paithani sarees, although it stocks handloom sarees from other Indian states.
Impact of Machine-Woven Paithani Sarees
The emergence of the power loom in the South Asian weaving industry meant the creation of machine-woven Paithani sarees. These serve as clever imitations of the handloom original. Expert power loom weavers are often capable of closely mimicking its appearance, but not its exclusivity and quality.
Many consumers, however, end up buying more of the machine-created variety because these are cheaper. Higher demand for power-loom sarees from the less wealthy has impacted the traditional saree market. Now, the ancient weaving industry is threatened with possible extinction much like the dinosaurs. This has resulted in countless weavers losing their livelihood.
Monica and Manoj Gupta are the founders of Crafts Villa—a blog celebrating Indian culture. They visited Yeola to discuss sarees with traditional weavers battling the power loom industry. They revealed that many customers are not aware of the difference between genuine Paithani sarees and copies. As a result, they pay exorbitant amounts of money for fakes.
Reviving the Handwoven Paithani Saree
Resurrecting the legacy of the handmade Paithani saree is a team effort. Megastars, artisans, manufacturers, and the government have all recently joined hands to do so. Take the example of the New Wave Paithani Festival. This exhibit educates locals on the importance of owning traditional handlooms.
To support the industry, designers Neeta Lulla and Gaurang Shah added sarees to their catwalk collection. A-list Bollywood actors like Sonam Kapoor and Vidya Balan wear them during their red carpet affairs.
Arati Baandal is the owner of Only Paithani, an e-tailer that expanded to brick-and-mortar emporiums. The site aims to promote the exquisite art of the Paithani saree and the rich tradition of the handloom industry through her business.
Baandal built her online store in 2010 after shopping in Mumbai for a wedding dress. She discovered that no store there had more than ten original Paithani sarees. She now has a physical store in that city.
Baandal has been working with Maharashtra’s traditional weave for almost a decade. With her experience in mind, she explains that the Paithani is not limited to the stereotypical peacock. The handloom Paithani saree is a blank canvas for traditional weavers to produce phenomenal garments.
Indefatigable Paithani Weavers
Sadly, only a handful of weavers remain in Paithan, the birthplace of the original Paithani saree. Many relocated to Yeola, making it the latest major hub for the popular saree.
Baandal’s business also operates there. She works with six weavers who now enjoy higher wages and better working conditions than their contemporaries in Paithan. Current weavers in Yeola creating straightforward geometric designs make around Rs 25,000 a month.
Younger weavers were reluctant to practice these ancient techniques until they were educated. The Indian government has also chipped in by securing a training center specifically for this purpose.
Women Infiltrating the Paithani Workforce
Baandal recalls the traditional Paithani saree industry as previously a male bastion. This has changed, thanks to the government training center now welcoming women. Authorities followed this up with an entire complex dedicated to the creation of the handwoven Paithani.
Individuals can do their part by becoming owners of Paithani sarees made by traditional weavers.
And now that you know the difference between real Paithanis and imitations, why not join the fold?
Innovation of the Traditional Paithani Saree
Baandal, through Only Paithani, promotes original Paithani sarees via innovation and tradition. She does so by introducing new textiles to the traditional fabric base. She digs into the past by sourcing motifs, such as the lotus, from the Ellora and Ajanta caves.
Adding to the Color Spectrum
Baandal is experimenting with color. She is adding mauve, gray, blue, and pastels to the traditional Paithani colors of green, purple, pink, red, and yellow. Her team is also adding fusion borders and checks to the Paithani framework.
Baandal initially encountered resistance from her weavers in implementing the changes. They didn’t think anybody would be interested in buying a Paithani with the suggested unconventional colors. After all, saree creators rarely add unusual motifs because consumers prefer traditional designs. Why rock the status quo by messing with patterns, let alone color?
Her team finally came on board when she pointed out to them that Paithanis were originally made with cotton and other fabrics. But somewhere along the line, silk overshadowed these textiles and took over. The logic was that if the material changed throughout the years, why not color and design?
Experimenting With New Materials
Baandal is exploring other styles like Gadwal, Ilkal, Chanderi, Maheshwari, and Khun. Artisans use the last one exclusively for blouses sold in the states of Karnataka (southwestern India) and Maharashtra. This makes the handloom Paithani wearable by regular people and not only an heirloom limited to special occasions.
Her reasoning is based on the goal of creating an understated variant of the luxurious Paithani saree. She does this by blending its aesthetics with more down-to-earth textiles like Gadwals.
Baandal opened another store in Bengaluru after learning that locals appreciated handwoven sarees. She found this out when she introduced cotton Paithanis, Paithani kurtas (loose shirts without collars), and dupattas (a long fabric used as head covers or scarves).
The Paithani is possibly the most opulent and beloved of all the sarees in India. No soiree, Maharashtrian wedding, or special event is complete without one. However, the proliferation of fake Paithanis has contributed to the near-demise of the real ones. Fortunately, various groups are trying to save the handloom Paithani industry from disappearing.
It is the saree enthusiast’s responsibility to connect with these entities in keeping the handmade Paithani in existence. How? By being adept at spotting fakes and patronizing only establishments that offer the real ones. We trust this article has helped make this possible!