Sagon Kangjei (Polo)
- Part 4 -
P. B. Singh *
2nd Manipur Statehood Day Women's Polo Tournament on 21st January 2017 :: Pix - Deepak Oinam
In sagon kangjei the game was not played for certain length of time. There were no intervals or half time. The number of goals was agreed upon and the game went on until one team scored the agreed number of goals. There was really no hardship since the players and the ponies can be replaced as many times as one liked. Maharaja Chura Chand being fed up with the boastings of the youthful players and bickerings, fixed a match between the Ojas and the young players.
The number of goals was fixed at 100. Just as the midday cannon was fired from the 4th Assam Rifles lines, the match started and went upto about four in the afternoon after the Ojas was leading with 87 goals, as some players were hurt. Thangjam Chaoba during the match went out to quench his thirst. He had just taken a bite of a piece of sugar cane when his father espied him and came and scoffed at him.
He threw the sugarcane and went in. At the end of the game, he tells us, that he had to be supported by two men as he could not straighten his knees, and had to be fed since his fingers remained bent. Many suffered from blisters and bruises. Two basketful of polo balls were used up. Polo balls are made from seasoned bamboo roots. There are specialists who made the balls.
Manipuri saddles looks most clumsy, cumbersome, and too big for the small ponies. It has a big hump in from carved out of a solid block of wood. The back portion of the seat is also of carved wood. The whole saddle rests on two thin planks that rest on both sides of the back bone of the pony. On both sides hang huge uncured buffalo skins, both ends fore and aft curled up protecting the whole legs.
The sagon kangjei players wear his dhoti so that no part of it goes below the knee. He wears a small jerkin with short sleeves. On this head wears a big turban held by a chin strap (khadangchet). The turban completely protects his head. To protect his calf he wears a padded 'khongyom' held by straps. To protect his ankle since no footwear is worn, he wears 'khumit-khang'.
It is a piece of skin that covers the ankle completely and held by straps. The reins are cotton cord. One pair of rein is used which is attached to the bit. The bit is two iron pieces linked at the middle. On the index finger of his left hand he holds a lash made of thick leather pleated together. He uses it when he can spare his right hand to hold the reins.
In 1948 the Maharaja in Council created the Manipur State Polo Committee. During the Second World War, the hafta sagon kangjei had ceased and the ponies were returned to the state. These ponies were handed over to the Committee. The Committee arranged regular matches and tournaments. To raise funds and create a pool of good ponies it ran races.
The demand for Mapan kangjeibung (Polo ground) for other games became very great. Ex-Maharaja Bodh Chandra kindly gave use of the Manung Kangjeibung to the committee. After the death of the Maharaja, troubles regarding the possession of the ground became frequent and acute. The State Cabinet, probably from suggestion made by the Home Ministry, decided to take the ground for Y.I.P. meetings. One evening the office of the committee was set on fire.
The whole area is a subject matter before the courts. The Committee remains dormant. On the other hand late Maibam Iboton, one of players of hafta macha, good in many games and was with late maharaja Chura Chand to the end, organised a polo club. Srimati Sabita Mehta who was in Manipur learning Manipuri dancing donated a sum of money and in late in 1955, Shri P.C. Mathew I.C.S., the Chief Commissioner of Manipur as the Chief Guest inaugurated the Manipur Polo Club. The Club is organising games and tournaments and doing good work.
Let me mention about 'Arambai' darts that are thrown by Manipuri cavalry, since the technique of throwing is very similar to a player takes to hit a ball with his stick. Some Manipuri holds that the word' Arambai' comes from two meiteilon words, 'arap' (distant) and 'part' (to fly to great distance). The dart head is attached to the quill of the peacock. To give strength and grip, a thin bamboo silver with a cord loop tied to the exposed, i.e. the end away from iron dart, is loosely attached to the quill.
The thrower inserts his fingers through the loop, catch the stick and the end of the quill. As a kangjei players hits a ball, he takes a half of a quarter vertical swing and releases the quill. Once the dart is launched he throws the bamboo sliver and draws on another. (While a lasso or bolus thrower circles the lasso or the bolus to create a centrifugal force and releases them at tangent after gaining enough momentum on to the target, with arambai this is not possible.
While the circling on the horizontal plane can attain great momentum the arambai thrower is using a vertical circle which is never completed. The use of the polo stick gives him the strength of the stroke.) In sham or real retreat he throws the arambai from under the neck of his pony as he would strike a ball directed to his left and to the rear. He also makes use of the back hand stroke. The darts thrown from under the neck travel skyward and to the rear. The darts are thrown skyward so that the darts 'rains on the enemy' which the enemy's dislike.
What is the future of sagon kangjei in Manipur, is a nagging question. When a delegate of the Manipur State Polo Committee met Sri R.P. Bhargava I.C.S (1952-1955), in the matter of Mapan Kangjeibung, the matter of the future of sangon kangjei came up in the discussion. Maintaining a pony is becoming more and more expensive. Ihere are no open 'pats' or jheels. Every piece of land is put to the plough.
The use of herbicide had claimed number of ponies let loose. Thus the village folks who in Manipur took to playing sagon kangjei were finding difficulty in maintaining a pony, and finding an open place to play.
But as I mentioned above still sagon kangjei is being played in the southern villages amongst the Muslim and Meiteis. Another thing that was pointed was that more and more children are going to schools in the villages. In the schools, football and other games are played. Football, volley ball and such games are not expensive. They give exercise to more players than polo. Thus, the sagon kangjei becoming popular, the game for the villagers, is very bleak.
* P. B. Singh wrote this article which was published as part of 2nd Manipur Statehood Day women's Polo Tournament 2017.
This article was webcasted on February 13, 2017.
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