Phi and Phanek
Worn together, the phi and phanek comprise the traditional attire of the women of the Meitei community, the largest ethnic group in Manipur. The phi (also known as the phee or the innaphi) is the upper shawl-like garment and phanek refers to the lower sarong-like skirt. The innaphi and the phanek are traditionally handwoven on backstrap looms, which can be found in almost every Meitei household.
In Manipuri, the word phi is commonly used to refer to cloth, and innaphi literally translates to “wrap for the upper body.” Resembling a dupatta in function, the phi is normally worn with a blouse and draped around the upper body. Traditionally made of a coarse material called uriphi, prepared from the bark of creeping plants, today the phi is usually made of fine cotton or silk and has an almost translucent finish.
The phanek is considered to be an important symbol of femininity and conventional beliefs forbid men from touching the garment. The style of wearing the phanek varies between unmarried women, who wear it at their waist, and married women, who wear it around their chest. There are broadly four types of phaneks: pumngou phanek, a typically white or light pink phanek meant for everyday use and religious functions; phanek mayek naibi, or the patterned phanek worn on formal occasions such as marriages; and the kanap and the pumthit phanek, which were reserved to be worn solely by royal women and are rarely in use today.
The border of the phanek typically features intricate embroidery. The earliest motifs found on the border were of two kinds — the khoijao or hook pattern, and the hija pattern, which was inspired by the wood used to make boats. Historically, the colour of the phanek was also used to differentiate between the seven Meitei clans, but these distinctions no longer persist.
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