Phanek Mayek Naibi: The Meitei Sarong

in Module
Published on: 16 July 2020

Sainico Ningthoujam

Sainico Ningthoujam is a recipient of the Zubaan-Sasakawa Peace Foundation Research Grant, 2019. Her current project focusses on gender, culture and folktales from Manipur. She was an assistant editor at DK (Dorling Kindersley), India, and has a postgraduate degree in English Literature from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

Phanek mayek naibi is the traditional sarong worn by Meitei women in Manipur. It continues to be an intrinsic part of their formal wear as well as a part of traditional and festive attire.  

The motifs that are used to decorate the borders of the phanek can be traced back to indigenous mythologies and oral history. These motifs give us an insight into the philosophical, aesthetic and cultural ethos of early Meitei society. However, there is little scholarship that documents the origins of the phanek motifs, making them inaccessible for people who are not familiar with the language or customs of the region. 

To explore this often ignored but conspicuous site of the Meitei culture which intimately connects its past and present, we must combine traditional interpretations with contemporary perspectives on the attire, its motifs and its weaving practices. By doing so, we will be able to engage with the changes that the phanek has gone through over the years, both socially and culturally, and look at how it survives in the age of globalisation.