History

Calcutta, now Kolkatta was once considered the Paris of the East. Between the 40’s and 60’s it was known for its vibrant social life, fine restaurants and clubs. Many a song and play of the 50’s acknowledged Calcutta’s envied social position in the East.

Today, while much has indeed changed and in many ways declined, Kolkatta still has the capacity to charm and display its art deco architecture, old French influence before the British landed to found the East India Company, as well as the native Indian tempo. Some of the remarkable old British clubs are still to be seen, including the Royal Calcutta Golf Club which was the first ever in the world, to allow women to participate! The Oberoi Grand (once the Grand of old), the Tollygunge Club and the Turf Club are other vestiges of the past. Besides being able to explore these and the old churches where Warren Hasting’s desk is to be seen, institutions such as Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity home are also to be found. Further afield are the French homes up the Hooghly River showing off their art deco designs. Also possible is a day or overnighter to explore the Sundarbans swamp mangrove forests, the worlds largest. After a two day sojourn in Kolkatta (unless one is expending), we then head to Imphal, capital of Manipur and a far cry from the intensity of Kolkatta.

Manipur culture is a whole complex of different strands, spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional, features that characterise its society. The folklore, myths and legends, dances, indigenous games and martial arts, exotic handlooms and handicrafts, are invested Manipur’s people, the Kubuis, Maos, Gangtesand Meitis. The latter who are more than two thirds of the other 24 tribes, including Nagas, Tangkhuls, Paitheis and Kukis all live in the hills surrounding Imphal. Ever since their social revolt ‘Nupilan’ of 1939, women have taken an active role as traders. The Ima-market is an excellent place to see their handicrafts and handloom goods. Love of art and beauty is inherent in the people there and it is difficult to find a Manipuri girl who cannot sing or dance. Manipuris are artistic and creative by nature. This has found expression* in their handloom and handicraft famous for their designs, ingenuity, colorfulness and usefulness. Each ethnic group has its own distinct culture and tradition deeply embedded in its dances, music, customary practices and pastimes.

Manipur is famous for something else which few people in the wider world realise. At the dawn of 18th century two cultures were to meet and from this, modern day polo was to be born. These were the British Empire and the landlocked Hindu Kingdom of Manipur specifically in the Surma Valley. After the devastating war with the neighbouring Burmese, the Manipuri princes, Chourajit, Marjit, Gambhir Singh and Nar Singh who were staying at Cachar, now under the rule of the British, and a frontier territory of colonial British India. There, in the lush green plains of Cachar, the British saw Manipuri royalty with their ever present retinues, constantly practising either battle exercises on horse back, swinging the dart Arambais or at other swinging a mallet, on their little ponies. The Britishers saw a formidable ally in the Manipuris and signed the treaty of alliance with Gambhir Singh and formed the famous Manipur Levy.

IMPHAL is also a name that afficianados of miltary history and WW2 in particular know well as a name. This sleepy city and its surrounding hills, in India’s extreme north east, abutting Burma (now Myanmaar), suddenly faced the full onslaught of the Imperial Japanese Red Army from March to July 1944. The natives of Manipur had never seen iron birds in the sky (aeroplanes), nor weapons that could breathe fatal fire (their description for machine guns and cannon).

As such we explore the famous battlefield sites and silent graves to the fallen from boths sides of the War on this trip. We also ensure you experience a cultural extravaganza which is the Sangai Festival (a cultural and art festival) and also explore native markets manned completely by women appropriately called IMA BAZAR or the Mothers Market. Visitors will also visit the floating homes on Loktak Lake and the Museum of the leader of the Indian National Army, Subhash Chandra Bose, who with his Indian troops fought against the British with some support from the Axis powers.

POLO – MANIPUR’S GIFT TO THE WORLD. MANIPUR – POLO AND MORE

IMPHAL: Afficianados of miltary history and WW2 in particular know the name well. This sleepy city and its surrounding hills, in India’s extreme north east, abutting Burma (now Myanmaar), suddenly faced the full onslaught of the Imperial Japanese Red Army from March to July 1944. The natives of Manipur had never seen iron birds in the sky (aeroplanes), nor weapons that could breathe fatal fire (their description for machine guns and cannon) . But Imphal and the State of Manipur (once the Royal Kingdom of that same name) is also known for a peaceful pastime; Polo. POLO..a word that in itself evokes a certain awe and mystique on account of the role of the horse, that regal animal which not all can afford to maintain . And therefore everything surrounding the horse and the sport, implies exclusivity.Yet, it was and is very much a sport of the people, watched and played by the people, in one parts of the world, secifically, in the Indian Sub Continent.Delving deeper still into the myth and legend as well as history of the sport of Kings and the King of Sports, one must travel to India, for it is here that the British learnt the sport from native horsemen, before propogating it throughout India to play amongst themselves and with Indian royalty, on the english thoroughbreds they brought over from England. In this process the native Indian warm blood the Marwari belonging to the desert of Rajasthan was encouraged to be put down, for English profiteering.Native Indian lore worshipped the horse as Lord Indra’s gift to mankind. According to this, the winged horse was sent to earth and mythical pictorial depictions show Lord Indra’s sword slashing the wings to confine the horse to earth for mankind’s benefit. The women of Rajasthan still bow to the sight of a horse seen at sunrise. The cenotaphs of warriors are shown with horse statutes in Rajasthan and in many other parts of India, and window, and doors are adorned with these and stairs and lentils supported by horseheads.

But it is in India’s opposite corner in the extreme north east, that an actual horse diety is still to be found and worshipped to this day. It is this diety that provided the inspiration to the local population of Manipur to conjure and develop the magnificent sport of polo and propogate it to the far corners of the globe. It is here that the British tea planters first saw the sport being played, alongwith their discovery of tea in the region of nearby Singhpo. In an aside, the British tried to find a use for boiled tea leaves as a sandwich filler! But they learnt how to drink tea as well as how to play polo in this corner of India. One thing they could not do is hold the ball in the mallet hand, toss the ball up in the air and strike it midair at the gallop. That is when the rule of placing the ball on the ground and coming up to it and then bending to hit it, commenced! Sagol Kangjei as the sport is locally known, receives its inspiration from Marjing- the God of polo.

The games take place on the world’s oldest “living” polo known as Mapal Kangjeibung, in the heart of Imphal, presided over by Kangla-sa, half lion, half dragon.At the dawn of 18th century two cultures were to meet and from this, modern day polo was to be born. These were the British Empire and the landlocked Hindu Kingdom of Manipur specifically in the Surma Valley. After the devastating war with the neighbouring Burmese, the Manipuri princes, Chourajit, Marjit, Gambhir Singh and Nar Singh who were stayed at Cachar, now under the rule of the British, and a frontier territory of colonial British India. There, in the lush green plains of Cachar, the British saw Manipuri royalty with their ever present retinues, constantly practising either battle exercises on horse back,swinging the dart Arambais or at other swinging a mallet, on their little ponies. The Britishers saw a formidable ally in the Manipuris and signed the treaty of alliance with Gambhir Singh and formed the famous Manipur Levy.

Thus was formed the first Polo Club, at Cachar in 1859. When the Marques of Ripon speaking during the house of Lords of debate on the Manipuri royal, Jubraj Tikendrajit's trial on 22nd June 1891, referred to Manipur saying "it is a small State and probably until these events took place very little known to your Lordships, unless, indeed, some of you may have heard of it as the birth place of the Game of Polo”, he actually paid a glowing tribute to the Manipuri pioneers of the sport of Polo.

The Guinness Book of Records in its 1991 edition on page 288 states "Polo: Origins: Origins of Polo can be traced to origins in Manipur State c. 3100 B.C. when it was played as SagolKangjei". The earliest club was the Cachar Club founded in 1859 in Assam, India. The oldest Polo Club in the world still in existence is the Calcutta Polo Club (1862). The game was introduced in England from India in 1869 by the 10th Hussars at Aldershot, Hants and the earliest match was the one between the 9th Lancers and the 10th Hussars at Hounslow Health, Greater London in July, 1871. The earliest international match between England and the USA was in 1886. The game's governing body is the Hurlingham Polo Association, which drew up the first English rules in 1875.

The antiquity of polo in Manipur is shrouded in ancient myth and legend. The horse figures prominently in Manipur mythology and has an undeniable presence in the social life of Manipur. In the book 'Ougri' it is stated - "After creation of the Earth by Ashiba, his father, the Almighty God, Atiya Shidaba asked his brother Apanba to create human beings to own the Earth. Apanba who was also known as Konglouton Louthiba, along with his wife Leinung Chakha Khongjombi planted beans on Earth. Ashiba who became jealous then created Shamaton Ayangba (the first Pony) to destroy Apanba's creation of human being and their produce. Apanba then fought with Shamaton Ayangba, his wife Leinung Chakha Khongjombi helping him in his conquest. Later, they cut off the wings, mane and fur of Shamaton Ayangba to tame the pony for man kind’s use".

Polo in Manipuri legend is associated with the God of the Chenglei tribe, Marjing, to whom the stick along with the ball, are still offered in worship. The traditional Lai Haraoba Festival of Manipur has a sequence dealing with the search of bride (Lai NupiThiba) on the part of Maibi (Priestess) with the Polo Stick in hand. There are several mythological books in Manipur such as 'Thangmeirol' and 'Kangjeirol' (Art of Polo) which point to the great antiquity of this game, emanating from here.

According to Kangjeirol, a historical treatise on Manipuri Polo, king Kangba who ruled Manipur long before the birth of the Christ, introduced SagolKangjei, the game of polo. This treatise states - "During the UkrongHongba festival, Kangba, the king of Manipur demonstrated his skill of dribbling a bamboo root ball with his walking stick. He ordered his subjects to play this game on horseback the next the day. Accordingly, his subordinate officers along with commoners emerged after the royal luncheon,in new regalia to the festival venue alongwith their ponies, and commenced play. The game was witnessed by the queen, LeimaTanu Sana sitting under a royal canopy amidst huge crowds.Taking the name of the new sport from the King’s own, SagolKangjei was born. Sagolor horse and Kangjei referring to the Kangba's cane.

The Royal Chronicle of Manipur, Cheitharol Kumbaba, gives an account of a Polo match between the friends of NgondaLairenPakhangba who ascended the throne of Manipur in 33 A.D. On that occasion he introduced his queen Laisana to the royal crowd as a proof of his marital fidelity to her.

The ancients of Manipur had a specific geometric pattern of play, a specific name for the Umpire who was known “HuntreHunba”. The rules and structure as shown below, show that modern day polo truly draws its format from Manipuri polo, and shows the advanced thinking of Manipur.Traditionally the game was played with seven players a side. The name of the players who played on the occasion and their respective positions are as follows:

SI. No. Team facing the South Fielding position Team facing the North
1. Marjing Pan-ngakpa (Full back) Thangjing
2. Khamlangba Pan-ngakchang (Half back) Khoriphaba
3. IrumNingthou Pallak Chang (Mid-fielder) Wangbaren
4. IkopNingthou Langjei (Centre) YangoiNingthou
5. IrongNingthou Pallak Chang (Mid-fielder) Mayokpha
6. Nongshaba Pangjeng Chang (No. 2 forward) Oknaren
7. Panthoiba Panjenba (No. l forward) Loyarakpa

Records are also available that in early days Polo was played by more than seven players in either of the side. In later years, Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy of India who witnessed a Polo match at the Imphal Polo ground during his visit to Manipur in 1901, wrote in his Viceroy's Note-Book "The number of players was indeterminate, the correct number being from seven to nine a side, though there was no limit. The game that I saw was one of the ten a side, and it was preceded and followed by a ceremonial which undersignedly illustrated the Chinese origin of local game and the earliest Chinese connections of the State. Before the play began, the ten players lined up in front of me, as representative of the King-Emperor of India, and prostrated themselves at full length on the ground, twice striking the soil with their foreheads; the same homage was repeated at the close of the encounter". According to CheitharolKumbaba, king Khagemba of Manipur introduced Pana SagolKangjei in 1606 which are played between the four Panas of higher status and also between the two Panas of lesser status. The Panas of higher status were Laipham, Khabam, Ahallup and Naharup. Two Panas of lesser status were Hidakphanba and Potsangba. Each team of the Pana (a social institution of Manipur) was given a particular colour of uniform for games.

Higher Status Panas:

1. Laipham Pana Red colour shirt
2. Khabam Pana Green colour shirt
3. Ahallup Pana White colour shirt
4. IkopNingthou Yellow colour shirt

Lesser Status Panas (Pana Khumei)

1. Hidakphanba Black colour shirt
2. Potsangba Blue colour shirt

No Polo game could be played between a Pana of higher status and a Pana of lower status. When the selected player's form Laipham Pana and Ahallup Pana made a combined team and played against the selected combined team of Khabam Pana and Naharup Pana, the Polo match was known as Chere-Kare.