Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Two Manipuri ponies, a breed which gave the world the game of polo, left to eat garbage at Babupara, at the heart of Imphal city.

Manipuri Polo Ponies and Polo Players Must be Saved from the Threats of Marginalisation and Extinction

Sagol kangjei now popularly known as “Modern Polo” in the world originated in Manipur, a north-eastern state of India since the time of Ebudhou Marjing (Lord Marjing) and was played as formal sports among the people since the time of Ningthou Kaangba (King Kangba). Manipur has presented the world the game of Polo and its norms of play. Today this unique game tells the world about Manipur. Some knew the game as “hockey on the horseback”. Sagol Kangjei was in ancient time known as “Sagol Kang-Chei”, here Sagol means the horse or  Pony, Kang means the ball and Chei means the stick used for playing the game.

Polo is one among the most expensive, luxurious and royal sports of the world. But in Manipur most of the Polo lovers belong to middleclass family and some are not able to afford this expensive animal which cost around Rs. 2 Lakhs. Though rearing pony is quite expensive and tedious, Polo players and few pony lovers have taken the pains to save this endangered animal bearing the cost and labour. The historic Mapal Kangjeibung, the oldest living pologround in the world is at Imphal, Manipur. It is a dream of many across the globe to come and get ride on the back of this indigenous Manipuri pony.

Pologround which was formerly called Mapal Kangjeibung was meant only for the time of tournament and no ponies are allowed to enter at other time. The very important place of sports, Khuman Lampak Sports Complex does not have any facility to play polo game till today.

The people of Manipur show their love, empathy, nostalgia and concern for the pony only at the time of Lai haraoba but keep neglecting them at other times. It is also a type of animal which cannot be reared at crowded places like other animals. It cannot be reared easily at homes like the cow. It was very recently at the Parliament during the monsoon, that Rajya Sabha MP and titular king of Manipur, Sanajaoba Leishemba demanded as a special mention to launch a Centrally sponsored Pony project in Manipur like the Tiger project introduced by India government. It will be a great step if the present day Central government takes appropriate and effective measures to save Manipuri pony from extinction.

In an interview with this journalist, international polo player Sinam Bimol, a resident of Thangmeiband Sinam Leikai who has participated at number of International Polo tournament, five times as a team Captain representing India, expressed his concerned for both the endangered Manipuri Pony and poor career prospects of Manipuri Polo players. He works at the Police department and also as a pony lover who sacrificed for more than twenty years in the field of Polo managed to rear twenty ponies on his own. He expressed his desire for the government to take initiatives to give suitable jobs and departmental promotions to the successful players who brought laurels to the state as in other sports.

On other hand, a Polo player named Dollar Soram, a resident of Thangmeiband, currently playing at Imphal Riding Club affiliate to Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Association (MHRPA), owns four ponies and dedicated himself to this field for more than 11 years. This Polo enthusiast expressed his concerned at the declining population and grazing fields of this very indigenous Manipuri pony. The state is now left with less than one thousand pony population and among which rate of death is higher than rate of birth each year.

An injured pony at a depleted grazing ground

Pony gives birth once year only and many get killed due to road accidents and consumption of plastics and other contaminated pollutants. There are very few grazing fields for them due to which this peace loving and amicable animal stray into the city streets in search of foods.

More than twenty clubs affiliated to Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Association (MHRPA) and All Manipur Polo Associations (AMPA). Under the government of Manipur, MHRPA together owned a Pony farm at Lamphelpat. At present, most of the ponies graze grass at NIT, some at Police lane in Lamphelpat and few other places.

Many grazing fields at Lamphelpat, Takyelpat, Akampat, Heingang and Porompat have been occupied for various other developmental works, infrastructures, constructions etc. Some factors that lead to the decline of pony population can be of consuming various bi-products of developmental and infrastructural works that contaminate their food, improper dumping of garbage and also consumption of plastics along with their foods. The government must take up initiatives to research the cause of pony deaths rather than punish owner.

The Chief Minister of Manipur, N. Biren Singh is taking up various works to save pony and this is a good initiative. It requires at least 500 to 600 acres of land to make a pony farm with proper grazing field. It can be a good step to make the present NIT with around 350 acres of land at Lamphelpat an extension to the alloted 32 acres of land to make a Pony sanctuary for it is one of the best environment for the growth of pony.

It is unfair to make such an animal live anywhere at people’s convenience as it needs to get proper grazing field, edible grass etc. It was already evident with the failure of Pony farm made at Tingkai Khullen of Senapati district where there is no proper edible grass and water. Making Pony farms at wetland could also cause a serious health issue called “Luwanglai” (in Manipuri), a deadly fungal infection which is more common in moist or humid conditions. The fungus gains access through an injury, insect bite and specially through leech bite in wet environment. It can cause infections to various other parts of the body and get more serious which may be fatal. Ponies mainly struggle during rainy season for their food as they do not want getting wet.

Given these facts, in order to save this indigenous pony and with it a traditional sport of Manipur, it requires love and support of the people to save this endangered species. People need to have love, respect and concern for Pony other than at times of rituals, celebrations and festivals. Manipuri ponies were excellent war horses used by the Manipuri cavalries who conquered Upper Burma beyond the Ningthee river. Meitei cavalries had a versatile weapon arambai (equestrian dart weapon) which are flung while mounted on Manipuri ponies. The ponies can be given the credit for these many victories, including the ending of Manipur’s historical nightmare, the “seven years devastation” against the Burmese. Rudely treating ponies are an act of impulsiveness. Manipur people and government must jointly pledge to never allow this precious animal to perish.

1 thought on “Manipuri Polo Ponies and Polo Players Must be Saved from the Threats of Marginalisation and Extinction”

  1. Jadu Khundongbam

    Yes, an endangered spices. Need proper care and adequate grazing ground. The owners also must take care of the horses instead of making them roam here and there. At least they should know Every living beings need food. While even the pet cat has his position in a family with regards to food, how can the owner forget his pony whenever he sit for his food. How can he sleep in his home, while his pony is on the road or elsewhere in heavy rains and thunderstorm or in the heat of the summer. It’s totally inhumane. Better not to own them if care cannot be taken regarding fooding and shelter. Owning a pony without responsibility for fooding and shelter in the name of preserving the indigenous species is a totally wrong concept.
    Nowadays every household have at least a motor vehicle big or small for which purchased oil to run it, have garage, doing repair now and then. These pony owners must also have vehicles? Cleaning rubbing to shine like a star gleaming in sunlight, doing regular checkup and servicing. Why not pony be treated like these? Because they bring nothing, they are not cash crop like pig or hen or cows. Their flesh also cannot be eaten. We use them or remember them only at the time of polo and sometimes in Laiharaoba and other ceremonial events.

    Cannot we use them in passenger services in city areas instead of auto or battery operated vehicles, in roaming within Kangla, etc that will reduce noise and air pollution and that will also take part in supporting the family???

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