I have always considered myself a proud owner of the original Manipuri Polo Ponies. In fact, I owned four, including an extremely rare breed, whom I lovingly named, ‘Koiyang’. Polo players, who assumed their upkeeps on the condition that my horses play only for their team, say there are only about 4-5 sagols like Koiyang. Sagolis the Meitei word for horse.
Later, I confirmed from experts that Koiyang is indeed rare. He belongs to the breed that is fighting a losing battle against extinction. He has curly furs and is of slightly smaller size but stoutly built and famous for their tenacity. They also confirmed that being tabiano in colorization and curly, Koiyang belongs to the rarest breed of Pony, existing in the world today. I bought him in 2013, when he was around one and half year old and I named him Koiyang indicative of his curly furs and swiftness. ‘Koi’ means curly and ‘yang’ translates as swift. Naturally, I was super proud that he is mine.
Abung who owns a local polo team was probably happier than me, for he is actually the one who gets to rear him up, tame him and transform him into a full-fledged polo player and play polo with him. For Abung, the prospect of Koiyang, becoming one of the top polo playing horse of Manipur was a surety that he took it for granted.
Koiyang did not disappoint him either. He exhibited versatility, swiftness as well as agility, the three cornerstone characteristics of a good polo pony. Koiyang was almost ready to take the field. While Abung was raring to ride him to victory, I kept postponing Koiyang debuting in the game. I had my reason. For a colt to be fully ready for Polo, he had to go through a mandatory ritual that I was not ready for.
As far back as I could possibly stretch my childhood memory, I have this magical fascination for horses. Unfortunately, could never fulfill my childhood dream of galloping into the wilderness and experience the adrenal of riding a semi-wild being, known for its strong bonding with its master, feeling the waves of cool, refreshing wind, as I breeze through it riding into the unknown. Probably this childish fascination would appear to be the logical explanation for my eagerness of acquiring ponies, even when I am in my midlife. But it cannot be the entire truth.
As a horse lover and being born in a civilization that venerate the horse for its prominent role in propagating its glory, I feel to do my bit in attempting to preserve and propagate this rare natural heritage. I feel Manipuri have to reinstate Manipuri polo ponies to its old glory by way of reinvention.
The animal has done so much for the erstwhile Asiatic kingdom which has a recorded history since 33 AD. If we do not rescue it for its current predicament, history will not forgive this generation, I truly feel.
The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes Manipur as the birthplace of modern polo where it survived for hundreds of years under royal patronage with its local name, ‘Sagol Kangjei’. Kanglei roughly translate as hockey stick. Among the many facets of Manipuri culture, none has had a far more reaching extent on the world stage than Sagol Kangjei. It is a part of the cultural inheritance of Manipur with its ancestry traced to the waves of people migrating from southern China in the prehistoric times. Due to historical exigencies, this indigenous game of Manipur became the progenitor of the modern game of polo. The game which has a long history, intertwined in myth and culture, was introduced to the British in the mid 19th Century A.D.
In 1859, a British officer, Capt. Robert Stewart along with some tea planters started the world’s first polo club at Silchar, Assam, after studying and playing Sagol Kangjei with Chandrakirti Singh, the Maharaj of Manipur and his soldiers, stationed at the time in Cachar. Capt. Stewart is credited for starting, what is known as the English Polo. Since then, Polo has become a very popular sport across the globe.
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