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In the hustle and bustle of its vibe and the scenery of vibrantly organised chaos, Ima Keithel is every bit akin to what you would expect to encounter at any typical market anywhere in India. From the farm fresh produce of fruits and vegetables to handicrafts and textiles that boast of an enduring legacy and including of course the quintessentially Indian identity of the really pungent spices, wares sit decked in all their typical glory across the multiple stalls manned by some 5000 vendors in this bazaar that sits at the very heart of the Indian state of Manipur, as a proud manifestation of its identity. But what is there to rave about a market that sounds no more- or less remarkable than what the standard experience of the great Indian bazaar phenomenon has come to encompass, you ask? The answer here lies in a peculiarity that grants Ima Keithel an exclusive distinction not just within the realm of travelogue capturing the charms that lay within the diversity of a land as starkly Indian as possible but also seats it in a uniqueity that makes it perhaps the only one of its kind in the world. For, Ima Keithel is run wholly and exclusively by women, a facet so characteristic of this particular identity that has even lent it its name.

Translating literally to Mother’s Market, this 500 year old congregating place of the buyers and the sellers that sprawls across the heartland of Manipur’s capital city of Imphal is one that partakes of a rich history, continued effectively even to the present date when it has not ceased to hold any less importance. The largest all women market in Asia and probably also in the world, Ima Keithel dates back to the 16th century and in its rich historical tradition, has gained attention over the years for indeed the diverse identity of it but also for the premises that led to the birth of it. The all women criteria that today grants Ima Keithel its characteristic place of proud distinction hasn’t however been one that was a free expression of choice. It rather emerged out of a need that left the Manipuri females of that time with no alternative but to collectively organise themselves into a community of womenfolk who would come to dictate terms in the market- a place traditionally considered to be the domain of men. For the better though, for this characteristic feature that today sets apart the so famous Mother’s Market from the hundreds and thousands of bazaars India comes teeming in, with a show of women empowerment not easily discernible in many parts of the world.

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