Polo and indigenous ponies of Manipur
- Part 3 -

Waikhom Damodar Singh *

A game of Polo at Mapal Kangjeibung, at Manipur Sangai Festival 2012
A game of Polo at Mapal Kangjeibung, at Manipur Sangai Festival 2012 :: Pix - Jinendra Maibam

The result of the divine union of the two supreme deities had been that the "Sun", the life giver of all the beings in the cosmic world had been created which is represented by the "ball" (kang­drum) of the game. When the Sun sets on the west it is swiftly followed by its "ray" in the way of chasing the former by the latter, likewise the ball which represents the Sun-light (which is, according to the science of Physics, constituted by seven elements of different colours, namely, Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange and Red - VIBGYOR, perhaps it is in this context that deity Marjing who had invented the game and framed its playing rules had made it to be played by two teams, each consisting compulsorily always of 7 a side, and also perhaps in the same context the indigenous people of Manipur, the Meiteis and their cognate tribes had been following the system of the formation of their claws constituted of seven sub-clans called "seven salais".

The Sun rises from East and sets on the west i.e. it moves from one direction to another direction to complete the cycle of the day, so also Sagol Kangjei is played with the ball made to move from one direction to another direction by the chasing of the horse to complete a cycle of play. In the game of Manipuri Sagol Kangjei when a goal is scored with the ball (kangdrum) crossed the end line of the field, both the teams swiftly change their attacking directions to continue the playing indicating that "life" of both the games and the living beings "cyclic" i.e. continuous.

Just as the lifes of the living beings in the cosmic world are perenially subjected to the "struggle" between their "Births" and "Deaths", so also the game of Manipuri Sagol Kangjei is a "struggle" between the "sagol" (horse) and the "ball" (kangdrum) i.e. the former two elements make a cycle of life of a being and the latter two elements make the cycle of life of the game.

It is in this very interpretation to say that "Life is a God-gifted game", though full of sorrows, miseries, obstructions and stakes which one should face and overcome them by playing (struggling) them out in the manner one struggles in the play of the "games and Sports" in their true spirits and enjoy them amidst all the dangers, obstacles and stakes that are there in playing them, particularly in the game of the very wild and robust play of the "Manipuri Sagol Kangjei".

Actually, playing of the modern farm of Polo as is being carried outside Manipur, in Calcutta, Delhi, Jaipur etc. and in other places of U.K., Germany, France, USA, Argentina etc. is confined only to the arstrocates and very rich people but playing of the IP style of Polo on fast "Arabian Horses" by the local people of Manipur is not possible at all, as yet, because of the inability of purchasing, say at least, 10 of them due to sky-high prices of the horses and very high expenditures on their maintenance with setting up of their necessary meticulous infrastructures, and therefore the local enthusiastic players of t the game have to depend on the less-costs local ponies. That also keeping individually or even by the local clubs of a pony, only far the purpose of playing of Polo is becoming something very burdensome and impossible due to highly and fastly soaring prices of the local ponies and the commodities required for their keeping under proper maintenance.

Earlier, of course, during the independent days almost in every house of the Manipuris in the valley, keeping a pony, at least, had been a "must", as then the people were enlisted as the compulsory "militia" of which many of them with their ponies formed the main force of the cavalry under a very strict "Roster" enforced under very strict orders of the king known as "Lallup" (fighting group), disobedience of which was severely punished in the larger interest of protecting the independence of the people and the sovereignty of the age-old State, and therefore the people had anyhow domisticated their ponies and kept them ever fit and trimmed for war by carrying out regular play of the indigenous vigorous Sagol Kangjei during the peace-time so as to enable them to respond actively to the emergency and compulsory call for the National service.

As has been said earlier the so called International Polo Association located in England controls the playing of the international style of Polo as the Suprem Controlling Board for the game allover the world, and therefore there should not be any dispute in declaring the Manipur Polo Associations also the "de facto" and "de jure" "controlling Board" or "Apex Body" or "the Nodal Authority" over the game of the indigenous Manipuri game of Sagol Kangjei with jurisdiction spread all over the world. The Association, of course, duly affiliated to the World Olympic Federation or Association as one of its bonafide Member in respect of the indigenous game, so that it may also be included as one disciplines of the world olympic Gemes in the near future or at an appropriate time as had been done in the case of "Sepak Takraw", the National Gemae of Thailand.

Also it is high time that the Government of Manipur "step-up" their efforts to make theis functioning or running of their "indigenous pony-beeeding centre" which had already been set up as the only kind of it not only in the entire country but also in allover the world, and to make it to function in a more "lively" and "productive manner" so that it may make available at least, the locally required sufficient numbers of good Polo playing ponies to the local people at very reasonable prices for enabling them to carryon playing of the Manipuri Sagol Kangjei vis-a-vis the IP style of Polo without any more "worry" for scarcity or non-availability of good local Polo-playing ponies, which may also be even sold otside the State, particularly, to the foreign countries whose players have started preferring or liking by now to play even their IP style of Polo on the local Manipuri indigenous ponies after their thrilling experience of playing on them during the classic tournaments held at Imphal recently because of their easy maneuvering and less risks of getting serious casualties on falling accidentally due to their lesser heights andsiower speeds.

As had been done earlier during the time of Maharaja Sir Churachand Singh, K.C.S..I.C.B.E.(Knight Commander Star of India, Commander British Empire) in the 1920s /30s, who was the Pioneer Patron of the modern International games introduced in Manipur, a good number of outstanding Polo players were kept as Government paid players with special provisions made in the State Budget of very slender income generated from its limited resources, that also with the payment of a huge amount of Rs.50,000/- more than crores of money in the present money value to the British Government as the "tribute" of the vanquished State to them. Maharaja Sir Churachand, himself played very actively and regularly with all the well known veteran local players like Thourani Shabi, Bamon Samjai Sharma etc. including British officers, Captain Blakie etc. the IP style of Polo as its founder in Manipur at the Palace ground, which is therefore known as Hafta Kangjeibung - field of weekly playing, the days of playing were kept on every Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

The State Government may also give a very serious thinking and do the needful soon of giving some scholarships, at least, to the most deserving outstanding polo players selected and recommended by the Manipur Polo Associations, and also sufficient "gran-in-aid" to the "polo-playing pony keepers" and to the makers of the "indigenous saddleries and other indigenous equipments" by way of helping and encouraging them in carrying out their rare and very valuable profession inherited in a more lively and easier way.

Such a step suggested to be taken benignly by the State Government of Manipur will definitely make the "good momentum of playing the god-gifted, age-old and most rare and precious game of Manipur, the Sagol Kangjei vis-a-vis the International style of Polo originated from it "get going", otherwise it may become, one day, "extinct" from the venue of the State, the original Home for obvious reasons pointed out as above.

During the second world war in the 1943/44s the American soldiers (Yankees, the cow-boys) of the Allied Forces who were in the Imphal Zone under the 14th British Army under Lt. General, Sir Bill William Slim occasionally joined as a recreationary part the weekly (Hafta) playing of local IP style of Polo at the then much bigger and wider open historic Imphal Polo ground by the local players. The American military players rode on their very attractive big Arabian Horses that were brought by them. However they were no match for the local oustanding players led by Bamon Samjai Sharma, Thourani Shabi (of Khongman and Nagamapal respectively) and others who played on their very clever local ponies. The Manipuri players excelled in quick manwevering of their ponies in turning to the left, to the right and in about turns by swiftly slowing down their fast galloping speeds on missing a hit of the ball which the American foreign players could not do so on their fast galloping horses.

Also the local players excelled in executing both the defensive and offensive "back-strokes", particularly by Thourani Shabi, who was quite a renowned player for that in those days, and hence they were quite on the upper-hand in the playing of the game. The cleverness of the local ponies is that they even carry the ball towards the goal post by kicking it by their fore-legs even if their riders missed the hitting of it. Such is the god-gifted extra-ordinary "talents" of the Manipuri Sagol Kangjei players of those days and the qualities of their ponies.


* Waikhom Damodar Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on December 13, 2012

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