Rani-Phi - the “cloth of Rani” - is a vital part of every Meitei woman's wardrobe. “Rani-Phi” is named after the pioneer of these saris, Chungkham Rani. Rani Phi motifs are very popular and are native to Manipur state.
The magic of a spider’s web is said to have inspired weaving in Manipur. The Meiteicommunity believes that Leimaren - the goddess of wealth and prosperity - entrusted weaving to women to ensure the well-being of the society. There is one common thread that unites them in tradition all across the land - Manipuri women are expert weavers.
Chungkham Rani, a weaver, designer and entrepreneur who lives in Wangkhei, is credited with pioneering the Rani Phi sari. She lost her husband at the tender age of 21. Dismissing everyone’s advice to re-marry, Rani returned to her maternal house and instead wove all her shattered dreams into the clothes she produced on her loom, with magical colors and skillful designs.
Rani was inspired by natural designs like beautiful flowers, birds and different designs from outside the state. She imagined how wonderful and lovely it would be, if such patterns are embroidered on the phi. Those times, only designs like the Taj Mahal, flowers, etc. were embroidered. Rani took to her first experiment of using motifs of swans, lotuses and leaves on the fabric. She was apprehensive of the outcome and toiled to get them printed with perfection. She also started using silk threads for weaving the fabric. It was openly accepted and became a huge hit.
Among the Meitei community who inhabit the Imphal Valley, almost every step that goes into the creation of silk garments is done by artisans working from their homes. To produce one Rani Phi, a weaver requires around 40 – 50 grams of silk which is the yield from around 50 silkworm cocoons.Depending on the intricacy of the pattern, they will then work an average of one week to complete a sari.