India boasts of rich cultural diversity not just in terms of food, languages and rituals, but also fashion. Every state and community has a traditional attire which is worn on special occasions. As such, when Sushmita Sen landed in Manipur to attend the Sangai Festival 2022 — an annual cultural festival organised by Manipur Tourism Department — she made sure to embrace the north-eastern state’s culture with open arms. Sharing a picture, the actor wrote, “Adorning Manipur’s traditional handwoven woollen shawl and their gorgeous headgear. Hand on my heart…I belong. Thagatchari Manipur. I love you guys!”
In the photograph, she can be seen wearing the traditional Manipuri headdress called kajenglei and a handwoven shawl around her shoulders. Take a look.
Widely popular for their intricate designs, Manipuri shawls are woven in all varieties of fabrics and feature exotic designs and motifs that are embroidered on these shawls using threads of different colours. These are usually woven on wool, cotton or silk, and have designs that tend to form a formal arrangement of lines which, further, get elaborated to form diamonds and geometrical shapes. Some common Manipuri shawls include Changkhom, Rivat Kachon, Mareipan, etc.
Kajenglei, on the other hand, is a Manipuri headdress which consists of eight to hundred brass strips. It is worn especially by goddesses, female royalties, dancers, and brides. The strips are sewn onto a red fabric to make them comfortable to wear. Kajenglei is believed to be developed during the reign of King Gambhir Singh in the kingdom of Manipur.
Sushmita also turned showstopper for clothing brand Robert Naorem at the closing ceremony of the Sangai festival. She turned up wearing the traditional Manipuri attire for the show. “Having the privilege of wearing the traditional Manipuri attire… #phanek #raniphi in your stunning design…coupled with the love and hard work of the weavers…truly made this walk a celebration of Manipur’s rich art and culture,” she wrote on Instagram.
Phanek is a traditional Meiti sarong or a wraparound skirt worn by women of Manipur. It is handwoven on loin looms using cotton, silk and other synthetic fabrics. It is usually block printed and features flat colours or stripes. According to sahapedia.org, it is considered sacred and is symbolic of feminine identity; conventional beliefs discourage men from touching it. “Even the manner of wearing the phanek is significant; traditionally, adolescent women wear the phanek around the waist (khoidom setpa) and married women wear it around the chest (phidon chingkhatpa),” it noted.
Additionally, Rani Phi is known as the cloth of Rani and is only woven with silk. Worn on auspicious occasions, it is considered precious for every Meitei woman’s wardrobe.