Ima Keithel literally translates to Mother’s Market. Women running shops and market places in Manipur and other parts of North East is not something surprising. Even on the other side of Manipur Border from where Myanmar starts, the markets have a huge presence of women. Tamu in Myanmar too has a women’s run market.
Ima Keithel is in Imphal and the largest of all the women’s only market in all parts of North East India. Spread in a huge area, the whole market area is divided into multiple buildings and each of them have their own administration unit.
The outer space of Ima Keithel is a great place to buy wooden handicrafts and metal works.
Ima Keithel is located near Imphal bus stand. Easy to access on foot if you go to visit Kangla Fort. The market can be reached on foot or on shared autorickhaws. The stretch of road leading to market complex is filled with small shops with women selling various products like fruits and vegetables.
Every market complex is simply the prettiest. Colourful flowers, sarees, traditional clothes hang in open making everything look really pretty. These buildings are so neat and clean, it is impossible to find a strand of dirt or garbage on the floor even outside.
Other market complexes sell fruits and vegetables. Women chattering in their own language, with a long sindur on their forehead and colourful attires, they just smile at you as you passby with your camera.
Water lily is one of the popular flowers of Manipur and is used for multiple occasions. The flower primarily grows in lakes around the state and Loktak Lake has a huge collection of these flowers.
Ima Keithel saw a huge decline after the infamous Manipur earthquake that destroyed a lot for the residents of the state. The markets were developed as a part of program to empower the women of the state. This market has been symbolic to the socio-economic empowerment of women for ages.
Fish is a primary staple food of the state and their is a special section filled with different varieties being sold in huge quantities.
It is believed that the market came into being sometime around the 15th century. You’ll also meet shoppers from Myanmar who come here to buy stuff on cheaper rates.
Locally this market area is also known as Khwairamband Bazaar and Nupi Keithel. The is workplace for more than 4000 women shopkeepers who sell almost everything, including vegetables, meat, dry fish, herbs, handmade jewelry, handcrafted artworks, and traditional clothes.
Imphal’s Ima Keithel market is divided in two main parts. One area sells daily commodities while the other one is for women who make and sell special handcrafted items. Needless to say, other part is more popular between tourists.
Every complex is fully equipped with urinals, banks, canteens and even breastfeeding space. The most interesting part of the market is that it is the women who are responsible for accounts. Every complex has a special area where female accountants take care of daily expenses, sales and register the proceedings.
Exploring Ima Keithel is an amazing way to come across the culture and lifestyle of Manipur. This colourful, vibrant market will leave you with a few smiles and a lot of goosebumps.