Imphal, the capital city of the north-eastern Indian state of Manipur, is home to the Meithei people, who despite their own interesting version of Vaishnavism, remain resolutely independent in their thinking. Manipur’s matriarchal society means that women do most of the work and champion political causes. As Manipuri men were mostly fighting in wars with the Chinese and Burmese, Manipuri women shouldered the responsibility of supporting their families.
At the heart of Imphal, the fascinating Khwairamband Bazaar aka ima keithel (Engl.: Mother’s Market) is run by more than three thousand Meithei women, selling everything from edible insects, locally grown fruits and vegetables to colorful, traditionally crafted handloom and handmade jewelry, and making it the largest of its kind in Asia. Historic instances suggest that the all-women ima keithel has been part of Manipuri tradition since the 16th century CE. Established in a bygone era, the stalls, shops or arcades are handed down to the women of the family, generation by generation, and the inheriting mothers continue to follow the unwritten rules, thus, also making the marketplace traditionally stronger.
In January 2016, Manipur was hit by a severe earthquake which shattered some permanent structures in Imphal’s unique Mother’s Market. The quake had occurred at a time when the women hadn’t started their day yet. So, it did shake up their shops but their spirits stayed resilient to rebuild them.
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