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Italian seal on Manipur polo origin - Milan-based writer to visit Imphal to collect material for book on game's history

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KHELEN THOKCHOM   |   Imphal   |   Published 28.11.03, 12:00 AM

Imphal, Nov. 28: Ever since the 1984 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records mentioned that the game of polo originated in Persia, claims and counter-claims about its true origins have been flying thick and fast.

The Guinness authorities revised their opinion in 1991, tracing the origin of polo to Manipur in 3100 BC, but the debate continued.

However, a book-in-the-making on horses and the game of polo — by well-known Italian author Fulvio Cinquinni — might settle the doubts once and for all. Manipuri historians and scholars say the game, known in these parts as Sagol Kangjei, originated in Manipur and the book is expected to endorse this view.

Cinquinni, a well-known travel writer and an anthropologist, is expected to visit Manipur sometime in February to collect material for his book, which will focus on the traditional game of Manipuri polo. The writer has already published one of the better books on horses and it is reportedly a bestseller in several countries, including France, Germany and Italy.

Manipur youth affairs and sports commissioner S. Budhachandra Singh recently received a letter from the manager of India Tourism in Milan, Raj Vir Mittal, seeking information about Manipuri polo. The letter was written on behalf of Cinquinni.

Mittal said the Italian wanted to know the exact dates of polo matches in the state, names of players and their addresses, and whether international polo tournaments were a regular feature.

The tourism official requested the commissioner to suggest an itinerary for the writer during his visit to Manipur.

Officials here hope Cinquinni’s book will substantiate the claims by Manipur that Sagol Kangjei was played as early as in 3100 BC. During the reign of Maharaja Chandrakirti (1850-1886), British tea planters based in Assam saw and learnt the game from Manipuri players. The game of polo evolved with the establishment of the Cachar Club in 1859.

Researcher E. Sonamani says the game was popular with British army officers in India. In 1863, a British army general took two teams from Manipur to Calcutta for exhibition matches. The game was introduced in England in 1869. It was first played at Hurlington Club.

Describing the importance of polo to the Manipuris, the sports commissioner said: “To the Manipuris, polo exists on purely transcendental place. Once on horseback and mallet in hand, you become a god. Polo is the game of gods. It must be fair, it must be just but you must also conquer. The present-day Manipuris are an amalgam of seven basic clans of the past and so once on horseback for polo, you symbolise one of the ancestral fountainheads, a deity, a god.”

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