By Lourembam Ibetombi Devi
Though Polo have been regarded as a sort of training game for the cavalry of the king in the past, it became more of a lifestyle sports, extremely popular in the rural Manipur in the mid nineteenth centuryit had already started its journey to England and other places all over the world. After British conquest of the state, there seem to have a slump though, but in the early twentieth century, it was revived with royal patronage during Churachand Maharaja’s reign and the game prospered. The royal patronage continued till the reign of Bodhchandra Maharaja. In the year 1947, when Manipur was about to become independent, Maharaja Bodhchandra set up Manipur State Polo Committee on 5th May, 1947, but game suffered lack of support after state support was withdrawn on its merger with Indian Union in 1949.As soon as Manipur came under Indian Dominion,there was a serious blow to Polo, under order No.7, dated 12th November, 1949, a notice was issued and by giving a 3 month notice, all the Polo players in the palace, all the ponies and even the pony tenders were removed from service.They were all handed over to the Commandant, 1st Bn. Manipur Rifles. The historic Imphal Polo ground (Mapal Kangjeibung) was also made out of bounds for Polo players.This was a great disappointment for the players as even in the countrysidePolo tournaments, the matches start at grounds in the countryside and in the later stage, it was played at Mapal Kangjeibung. Those lovers of this game held a convention on 28th December 1955 and set up an ad hoc committee with Shri P.C.Mathew, the then Chief Commissioner, as president and Shri Maibam Iboton as the Secretary, renamed then, later became the ‘All Manipur Polo Club’.This organisation was registered in the year 1957. This club was affiliated with the Indian Polo Association later in the year 1959 (18th January).
Though some such efforts were seen now and then, there was a continuous decline in the game of Poloand the culture of pony all over the state though the game of polo was getting reformed elsewhere with setting up of Hurlingham Polo Association, the International Polo Association and developing the rules of the game (for what now we called IPA Style). The royal patronage has ended and the pony owners had to take care of their ponies with a lot of difficulties. The pony requires a large ground for feeding as this an animal which lives in semiwild condition and the earlier pony feeding grounds have been gradually converted in to paddy fields. Secondly, the Polo grounds were also gradually converted in to other fields or encroached upon and number of polo grounds diminished which was not possible during the royal patronage. Various type of Polo such as Mera Kangjei (Autumn Polo), Pana Kangjei (Pana Polo), Chak Kangjei (Lunch Polo), Khun Kangjei (Village Polo), Pakchan Kangjei (Wide Goal Polo), Hafta Kangjei (Weekly Polo) which were earlier played in the remote villages had dwindled and started vanishing. The Polo players were in a state of confusion. On the other hand, the Mapal Kangjeibung was being made out of bounds for Polo. The ground was fenced with barbed wire, a small portion was kept as a football ground and the sides were occupied by wooden galleries. This disturbed both the players and horses to a great extent and playing Polo was highly inconvenient. There were attempts to debar the people from playing Polo in the Imphal Pologround, a ground that the king Khagemba had made for the purpose of playing Polo. This move saddened the people and was highly criticised. The government started the construction of a mini stadium-cum-shopping centre. The people of the state did not agree with the plan and there were strong protests and ultimately, the governmentwas forced to abandon the idea.
However, there was one factor or another which affected the game. But there were somepeople who fought their best to sustain this game. At such a critical juncture, to save the game of Polo, Padmashree N. Khelchandra and Shri Maibam Iboton started consultations with the experts in the field and the Poloenthusiasts. They discussed the dilemma that the Polo players of the state were facing and the phase through which they are passing.Manipur State Polo Committee (1947) and Manipur Polo Club (1955) tried hard to save the game and the Manipuri Pony. As the government was indifferent towards this game and did not try to find out lasting solutions and wasted many opportunities, many Polo players were stranded and they were not patronized. During those days, Polo was played in Manipur in the name only, the seriousness we had during the days of the kings was gone. Under such circumstance, Shri Maibam Iboton, who was a renowned player and a Polo enthusiast, who had important roles in setting up both the organisations in the past, became restless and thought of getting an organisation which could be effectively dedicated to saving the game in Manipur.
A ray of hope emerged in December, 1977 in the form of a new organization at Uripok due to dedication of the man who knew both the formats of the game (Pana and IPA style) well, Shri Maibam Iboton Singh.This year, in a meeting of Polo players, SSD (Swadesh Sava Dal) volunteers, youths,veteran Poloplayers and pony lovers held at the residence of Padmashree N. Khelchandra Singh at Uripok Ningthoukhongjam Leikai, it was decided that a new organisation in the name and style of “Manipur Horse Riding & Polo Institute” (SamatonAyangbaNeinasang) would be set up. Thus, a milestone in the renaissance of the Polowas reached. Shri Khelchandra and Iboton were made the advisor and the president of the institute respectively and Shri Lourembam Sharatchandra Singh (Kungshelnaha) of Uripok Khaidem Leikai was made the Secretary of the Management Committee of the Institute.
The institute started its teaching sessions in the ground lying between RIMS (Northern Gate) and Uripok Boys Junior High School at Lamphelpat. Horses were brought from Leimapokpam, Thoubal, Thiyamonjil, Oinam, Oinam Sawombung and young boys and girls were taught horse riding. TheAll Manipur Polo Clubalso contributed horses. The teachers were among the most renowned horse riders and Polo players of the state. I can recollect the names of quite a few teachers; Maibam Iboton of Uripok, Elangbam Chaoyaima of OinamSawombung, Thiyam Chaoyaima of Thiyam Konjil, Maibam Nongdachaoba of Leimapokpam, Kesho Sharma of Leimapokpam, Keirakpam Babu (Okram Babu) of Thoubal Okram, Okram Kesho Singh, Thoubal, ChongthamChaoba of Singjamei, Senjam Mani of Khwai Nagmapal, Akham Chaonusana of Lamdeng Khunou, Shri Tonsana of OinamSawombung etc. Among the girls, I learned riding on the Karu Arangba of Keirakpam Babu. The first participation in the march past on the Republic Day Parade under the banner of MHRPI was in the year 1978.
The members of the marchpast contingent of 1978.
- Km Lourembam Ibetombi Devi of UripokKhaidemLeikai, Imphal
- Shri L. Shyam Singh of UripokGopaljeeLeirak, Imphal
- Km Ningthoukhongjam Ranjana Devi of Uripok Ningthoukhongjam Leikai, Imphal.
- Km Lourembam Lilabati Devi of Uripok Khaidem Leikai, Imphal.
- Km Th. Tilotama Devi of Nagamapal, Imphal
- Km R.K. Bhanisana Devi of Uripok Achom Leikai, Imphal
- Km P. Nandarani Devi of Uripok Huidrom Leikai, Imphal,
- Km R.K. Sanahanbi Devi of Uripok Ningthoukhongjam Leikai, Imphal
- Shri R.K. Pakasana Singh of UripokTakhellambam Leikai, Imphal.
- Shri Senjam Basantakumar Singh of Nagamapal Singjubung Leirak, Imphal
- Shri Mutum Sunilkumar Singh of Uripok Khaidem Leikai, Imphal
- Shri Maipak Singh of Uripok Takhellambam Leikai, Imphal.
- Km S. Basantarani Devi of Uripok Huidrom Leikai, Imphal
- Shri Ch Jilla Singh of Uripok Achom Leikai, Imphal
- Km L. Sanatombi Devi, Thangal Bazaar, Imphal
- Shri Dhiren Singh of Naoremthong, Imphal
- Km Y. Shashikala Devi of Uripok Ningthokhongjam Leikai, Imphal
Thus, the MHRPI continued to participate in the marchpast every year with its mounted contingent. In 1980, the preparation was to participate in the marchpastin the traditional dress of Polo player (Pana Style) and in the morning of 26th January, 1980, we were all dressed up in the traditional attire of a Polo player and we waited for the ponies. But due to an agitation by some students bodies, the horses were turned back and we could not participate in the marchpast that year. But the march past continued in the later years.
In the year 1979 (December), the MHRPI applied for registration and was granted in 1980, (Regd. No. 3006 of 1980). The original members of managing committee are:
After the registration of the institute, the chairman Maibam Iboton left this world in August, 1980. He must have been a happy soul for he had worked so hard for Polo and he had dreamt of such an organisation for the betterment of game of Polo. Late Moirangthem Gojendra became the chairman after the demise of M.Iboton Singh.
After some time, the MHRPI started to organise tournaments and events related to Polo. It joined the activities organised for the visit of Maharani Gayatri Devi to Manipur (April, 1983). After Gojendra Singh, Shri N. Tombi Raj became the president (1984-86) and Shri Kungshelnaha (Sharatchandra) continued to be the Secretary. During this period, the MHRPI underwent a lot of changes, widened its membership and enhanced its activities.
In 1985, on the 21stof February, the MHPRI organised the 1st Naorem Hazari Memorial State Level Polo Tournament at Mapal Kangjeibung. In March of that year, the Indian Polo Association New Delhi organised DRVS Polo Trophy and the institute participated in this tournament with a team of MHRPI of 4(four) players led by the then president Shri N. Tombi Raj and vice-president M. Shantikumar Singh, IPS. After returning from this tournament, the Manipur PoloClub changed its name to All Manipur Polo Association and the Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Institute rechristened itself as Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Association (MHRPA). These two associations have been taking a vital role in promoting this game and rescuing it from the brink.
After a considerable temporal gap in the promotional activities of the game of Polo, there was resurgence in the nineties. The first Governor’s Invitation Polo Cup started in 1990. The first international Polo tournament was organised as Manipur Polo 1991 from the 26thof March to the 2ndof April, 1991 at Mapal Kangjeibung and the organising committee of the tournament was named as ICCAF (International Cultural Conference and Festival). The members of MHPRI took an important role in organizing the event. The participating teams were 1) Britain, 2) Germany, 3) Australia, 4) India (Fort William), 5) Binnaguri Polo Club (India), and 6) Manipur (India). In the case of women’s Polo, the firstPolo match was played between Manipur Equestrian Association and Thoubal District Polo Club in 1992 and the match was won by the latter. Soon after, along with the 3rd International Polo Tournament in 1992, (November) the International Invitation Polo Tournament was also organised. Four teams participated in it, Manipur, UK, Kenya and Euro-Afro-Asian combined. The 1st Governor’s Women Polo Cup was organised in 1996. This trophy was donated by Gen K.V. Krishna Rao, the then Governor of Manipur.
Since the day I learned horse riding in the rugged grounds of Lamphelpat till date, it has been a long journey of almost four decades and for four decades, the MHRPA has been growing.From a humble beginning of giving training to young girls and boys in 1977 to organising mega events like international Polo tournaments now, the MHPRA has contributed immensely towards the cause of Polo and saving the Manipuri Pony. The MHPRA is now an internationally acclaimed body (now affiliated to Hurlingham Polo Association in 2014) and now it is well positioned to contribute more towards the game of Polo. I humbly acknowledge the efforts of all those who had contributed in one way or the other; those humble teachers, those masters of the game who are no more and the founders of MHRPA, who had given their everything for this wonderful and noble game called Polo.
The Author can be reached at [email protected]