All work and no play makes jack a dull boy. And we do not want jack to be one. So, today, we talk about a game that is so old that it will make even our grandparents feel young. A game that although is not as popular as football or cricket among the masses but is a treat to watch once you get the feel of it. We are talking about the game of ‘Polo’. We will also look at how a state from the north eastern corner of our country has contributed towards the spread of the game in its modern avatar.
A game of Polo in progress
Etymologically speaking, the word ‘polo’ is considered to have been derived from the Balti word ‘pulu’ which means ‘Ball’. The game which has its origin in ancient Persia was just one of the many ball games played during those days in the region. Persian rulers and rulers from neighbouring kingdoms helped popularise the game by promoting it and even constructing stadiums wherein to play the game. The descendants of the Persian and Central Asian rulers who came to India were very fond of the game. Polo was also considered an important game for the armies and was a part of their training programme.
Now coming down to the modern format of the game which is now played worldwide, the north eastern state of Manipur is considered the fulcrum upon which the pillars of the game rests. Known by a plethora of names like ‘SagolKangjei’ and ‘Kanjai-bazee’ , the game was a synonymous of Hockey. According to official records, the game in all its modernity was being played in the 19th century in the state but folk tales has an entirely different story to tell. Manipur has polo not just among the mortals but also has Marjing who is considered the God of Polo and also has a pony as his carrier. The Lai-Haraoba festival of the state depicts the life and times of Khori-phaba who is the polo playing god of sports. These facts indicate that the game has roots in the state from the ancient times. The Manipuri royal families popularized the game.
Players at an international polo tournament in Manipur
The game was then known as ‘Sagol Kangjei’ meaning ‘polo on horseback’. Under the newly enacted rules, the game was became a regular feature in the 17th century under King Khagemba. In the state, the game is played between two teams having seven players each on horsebacks. Manipuri ponies which have the perfect height for the game are used by the players. The players try to score goals by hitting the ball made of bamboo by their long Polo sticks. Like all other ball games, the side scoring more goals wins. Royal families had their own polo grounds in the state and Manipur also plays host to the oldest Polo ground in the world, the Mapal Kangjeibung Polo Ground.
Manipur brought a striking change to the game and deserves the utmost credit for the fast paced and adrenaline pumping Olympic game that we so enjoy. In every sense, Manipur is a sports paradise.