Polo is one of the most revered games in the world and certainly one of the greatest bequests left to the world of sports from the state of Manipur
The game of Polo has intrigued generations of players, as it is widely perceived as an elite game played only by the select few. But not many of us know that the game of ‘Modern Polo’ actually originated in the vibrant state of Manipur, which is home to many indigenous games like Sagol Kangjei (Manipuri Polo), Yubi Lakpi (Manipuri Rugby), Hiyang Tannaba (Boat Race), Mukna (Manipuri Wrestling), Kang and Thang-Ta and Sarit Sarat (Manipuri Martial Arts). Mapal Kangjeibung or Imphal Polo ground, at the heart of Imphal city, is the world’s oldest living Polo ground and home to many interesting Polo events in Manipur.
Every year, the state of Manipur celebrates its Statehood Day on January 21 with great pomp and show. But since January 2016, the state has also been organising Manipur Statehood Day Women’s Polo Tournament to spruce up the Tourism Industry in the state and bring in more footfalls. If you’ve visited Manipur or have heard about it from someone else, you would be aware about its rich natural beauty, cultural diversity, strategic location, indigenous games, folk practices, art culture and the famous Shirui Lily. However, there are many facets of this beautiful Northeastern state that are still unknown to most of us.
In the 19th century, sagol kangjei (sagol means pony and kangjei is a game of sticks) - the traditional indigenous game of Manipur - attracted the attention of the British colonial rulers who then thought of the game as ‘Hockey on Horseback’ and were so fascinated by it that they brought it to the stadiums of England, giving birth to the game of Modern Polo, as we know it today. But before the game was brought to the shores of England and other Western nations, there’s a recorded history that the game was played out between the locals of Manipur and Britishers several times in India at Imphal Polo ground, Imphal; Silchar Polo Club, Assam; and at Calcutta Polo Club, Kolkata. It was at Calcutta that the name ‘Polo’ was coined for the first time. But the laurels for giving the game of Polo to the sporting world rests with the state of Manipur, with even Guinness Book of Records recognising this feat.
Manipur Statehood Day Women’s Polo Tournament
To nurture the talent of state Polo players, the All Manipur Polo Association (AMPA) has introduced many state-level Polo championships, out of which the Manipur Statehood Day Women’s Polo Tournament is especially dedicated to women Polo players in the state. In the past, the traditional game of Polo was played only by men, but in the past two decades, it has become popular amongst women Polo players of the state, which paved the way for this tournament, now held every year on the Statehood Day of Manipur. This tournament is a production of Polo Yatra, the women’s polo initiative of Huntre! Equine, and is organised by the AMPA under the aegis of Manipur Tourism. Also, Incredible India! provides the international travel support for this event. The major initiatives of this tournament are to save and protect the unique endangered Manipuri pony, and to promote the concept of Polo Tourism in the state.
The most challenging aspect of this tournament is that only indigenous Manipuri ponies, which are only about four-feet tall, are exclusively used for all the Polo tournaments that are held in Manipur. All the visiting players from around the world love the novel experience of playing polo in this traditional style.
On the last day of the tournament, all the participating players from across the world dress up in traditional Manipuri attire – donning a short kurta, dhoti and a peculiar turban – to play an exhibition Polo match of sagol kangjei or traditional Manipuri Polo, which is complicated to play but delightful to watch.
This pioneering tournament, now in its 4th edition, establishes Manipur as India’s epicentre for Polo, especially women’s polo. Thus, a lot of efforts are being undertaken by the Tourism Department, Government of Manipur, to make Manipur as the international Polo destination in India.