May 2010 Issue
History of Polo in Imphal
"MAPAL KANGJEIBUNG": THE GLORY OF IMPHAL
The history of Imphal Polo ground is old as history of Manipur. The cradle of polo game or Sagol Kangei, as known locally, through centuries of Meitei civilization, Mapal Kangjeibung, the historic polo ground, rectangular in shape, is situated in the heart of Imphal city. This majestic game has always been an integral part of the Manipur ethos. It was, however, British influence and initiative that gave it global popularity.
The antiquity of Polo in Manipur is shrouded in a maze of myths and rituals. According to "Kangjeiroi", an ancient treatise on Polo, the game was introduced to the ancient Manipuris during the reign of king Kangba, centuries before the birth of the Christ. It also gives an account of the first recorded Polo match organised between the royal friends of "King Nongda Lairen Pakhangba" in 33 A.D. Legend also has it that during the reign of King Charairongba in 1697 A.D. team of 10 led by the King himself played a game against another team consisting of 100 players, with the smaller team winning the team.
The genesis of the game and its origin in this beautiful State is also accepted by the Guinness Book of Records, which in its 1991 publication records Manipur as the birth of Polo. Lord Curzon, the only Viceroy of the British India to visit Manipur writes in 'A Viceroy's Note Book': There seems to be dispute as to the exact dates at which the discovery was first made, and as to the individual pioneers who 'brought the good news from Ghent', and introduced the game that was destined to become the favorite sport of the Englishmen in India. But there can be no doubt that the precedence belongs to Manipur. Somewhere about 1854 or a little later, English planters in Cachar (Assam) learnt the game from Manipuri settlers and exiles who had carried it thither from their own valley; a European Polo Club was formed at Silchar in 1859; in 1862 it was brought down to Calcutta and from there enthusiastic officers took it up country to the principal cantonments of Northern India as Peshawar.
Polo in Manipur presented many similarities to the Hindu Kush game, but some remarkable contrasts. The capital being situated on a plain in the middle of a broad valley, there was scope for a level ground of much larger dimensions than in the mountains of the mighty Hindu Kush. The Manipur ground, Mapal Kangjieibung, was 225 yards long and 110 yards broad, and was covered with very fair turf. But its most striking feature was that it had no goal posts, the ground being surrounded by a low bank about two feet high, the striking of the ball across which at either end was the Manipuri equivalent of a goal. On the western side was a stand for members of the Raja's family, most of whom were good players, being well mounted and having been trained to lane game from childhood.
The survival of Polo, played in Manipur depended through most of this century on support from the royal family of Manipur. In the post independence period, the State Government extended limited patronage, mainly for maintenance of the ground and its periodic upkeep. The immense popularity of the game in Manipur through the ages is evident from the several polo grounds created all over Manipur valley. Every village has a polo ground, some having been constructed under the royal patronage. For instance, Cheitharol Kumbaba', the royal Chronicle of Manipur mentions- "On Monday, the second day of Hiyangei, a Pologround was constructed at Tenkai Kha".
Mapal Kangjeibung, the famous polo ground, between the Residency grounds, the Sana Keithel, and the great road was described by Sir
James Johnstone as
"the famous polo ground, where the best play in the world might be