Did You Know

Ima Market: The World’s Largest All-Women-Run Market

The Ima Market traces its origin back to the 16th century and has its tale of struggle, valour, and empowerment. It is a unique market that is run entirely by women and holds the distinction of the largest all-women-run market in the world.

It is located in the capital city of Manipur, Imphal and holds great cultural and historical significance in Manipur.

It is also known as Ima Keithel, which literally means Mothers’ Market. The Meitei word ‘Ima’ means ‘Mother’ and ‘Keithel’ means ‘Market’.

Ima Market, Imphal, Manipur

There are around 5,000 Imas running their stalls dressed in traditional phaneks (long skirts tightly draped around the waist) and innaphis (shoulder drapes very similar to shawls).

Ima Market is also known by some other names like Nupi Keithel or Khwairamband Bazaar and allows only married women to trade and do business, male shopkeepers and vendors are not allowed to sell anything.

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History of Ima Market

According to historians, the Ima market originated after the Lallup-Kaba labour system. The Lallup-Kaba is an ancient forced labour system that existed in the Manipur Kingdom in 1533 AD during the reign of Pakhangba.

This labour system required men to work in distant lands or serve in the army. To support their households and families, women began weaving textiles and cultivating paddy fields to sustain their livelihoods, ultimately leading to the establishment of Ima Keithel.

Ima Market is truly a paradise for shopping lovers and a very lively and vibrant place where hundreds of “Imas” sell different products ranging from vegetables, fruits, traditional garments, spices, textiles, toys, and other household items.

The market consists of three large buildings with pagoda-styled roofs and is split into two sections on either side of the road. Leimarel Shidabi Ima, or Purana Bazar, is the oldest and largest structure in the complex. The stalls here sell products like bamboo crafts, pure cotton threads, jewellery and all kinds of fruits, flowers, fish, and spices.

Ima Keithel

Emoinu Ima Keithel, or Laxmi Bazar is the smallest structure in the complex. The stalls here sell household items like bed covers, mosquito nets, and textile items, such as shawls and traditional clothes.

Phouoibi Ima Keithel, or the New Market, mainly sells handloom items, especially Meitei traditional clothes, that include various phaneks, sarees, and inaphi.

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It is administered by a union of women and married women can take a loan from the union to start their business and repay the amount over a period of time.

In February 2023, delegates of B20 from the G20 forum visited the Ima Market. One of the delegates said, 

I will tell the world that there is a beautiful market run by women that sells authentic handicrafts, clothes and others.

Visiting Ima Market is an amazing experience as it is not only an opportunity to shop for unique local products but also a chance to witness the vibrant cultural heritage of Manipur. Tourists visiting Imphal should never miss this wonderful market and must appreciate the spirit of women in Manipur.

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