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SAGOL-KANGJEI  (THE MANIPURI PONY POLO) Compiled and sent by P.Lalit.
Comments to: P.Lalit


NINGTHOU (KING) KANGBA (1405-1359 B.C), the son of Tangja Leela Pakhangba and Sinbee Leima, is considered to be the first and most foremost King of Manipur.  The story of Ningthou Kangba, his father and his descendants were put a  script  called "NINGTHOU KANGBALON" for the first time by one Maichou (Meitei scholar) named Thongak Kurumba on Thursday, the 3rd day of Kalen (May), during the time of Meidingu Khui-Yoi Tompok, (2nd century AD), the son of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba (33-153 AD) in the Meitei script, which is more or less similar to the Shan script. The story was again transliterated into the Bengali script by Nongthongbamcha Angou Luwaang and published by Thokchomcha Ibotombi Singh during 1976 AD.  According to the script, King Kangba was born in a Surung (cave) in Koubru (~35 km to the north of present day Imphal).  Caves were constructed with stones and mud under the compulsions of circumstances in the old days. He ruled over Tilli-Koktong, the name of Manipur in his time. His wife was Leima Taritnu,  the daughter of Nongpok-Ningthou (a hill range in the east of Imphal).

It was expressed that Sagol-Kangjei was invented by Ningthou Kangba for the first time in Manipur. So, the term Kaang-Chei or Kang-Jei (a hockey or stick made of cane), Kang-droom (a ball made of bamboo root) was taken after the name Kangba.  This story was written in "Kangjeirol" (the story of Kangjei). The same game was played during the time of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba with Namu Pong, the followers of Poireiton, the ruler of Manipur (34-18 BC) and their descendants being on one side and Lai (which means those followers and descendants of Tangja Leela Pakhangba, the father of Ningthou Kangba), being the other side as proposed by Leima Laisra, the beloved wife of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba.  Marjing of the Lai-group was the authority for the game on horse.  Since then Lai and Namu-Pong were amalgamated to form the Meitei group, which started with Tangja Leela Pakhangba's time with intermarriages among three different tribes, namely Tang-Shang, Lei-Hou and Kou tribes. [Source: An Approach to the History of Meiteis and Thais by Keertichand Tensuba, 1993].

Another landmark at Imphal is the famous pologround of which Sir James Johnstone, the Political Agent in Manipur (1877-1886) wrote, "Between the residency grounds, the "Sanakeithel" (Kwairamband Bazaar) and the great road (Burma Road, National Highway 39) was the famous polo ground, where the best play in the world might be seen. There was a ground stand for the royal family on the western side, and one for myself on the north. Sunday evening was the favourite day, and then the princes appeared, and in earlier day the Maharaja.  In my time one of the Maharaja's sons, Pucca Sana, and the artillery major were the champion players. In Manipur, every man who can master a pony, plays and every boy who cannot, plays on foot." [ Professor Gangumei Kabui in "History of Modern Manipur (1826-1946), edited by Dr. Lal Dena, p. 191, 1991].


The Manipuri Sagol Kangjei has been adopted by the International Community as Polo and is now being played worldwide. The 'PUYAS' or ancient scriptures trace it to the mythological age when the game was  played by gods. The game is played with 7 players on each side mounted on ponies, which are  often not more than 4/5 feet in height. Each player is outfitted with a polo stick made of cane  having a narrow angled wooden head fixed at the striking end. The ball, 14 inches in circumference is made of bamboo root. The mounted players hit the ball into the goal. Extremely  vigorous and exhilarating the game is now played in two styles - the PANA or original Manipuri  style and the INTERNATIONAL STYLE i.e. POLO. It is exhilarating to see the Manipuri players in their  sixties and even seventies riding ponies at full gallop and playing Sagol Kangjei with gusto. The  ponies are also decorated fully with various guards protecting the eyes, forehead, flanks etc.  The British learned the game of Sagol Kangjei in the 19th Century from Manipur after refinement it was transplanted to the countries as Polo.


Each player in Sagol Kangjei assumes a specific position on the field.

a) Pun - Ngak ( Full back )
b) Pun - Ngakchun ( Half back )
c) Pulluk ( Left wing )
d) Langjei ( Centre )
e) Pulluk ( Right wing )
f) Pun Jen ( Inner )
g) Pun - Jenchun ( Inner )

There are no goal posts in this game. Goal lines determine the end of the two boundaries of the rectangular field. The ball ( kangdrum ) is white in colour. To score a goal the ball must cross the line.

The polo stick is made of cane or wood, and is called kang - hu. It is 4 to 4 1/2 ft in length, and has a head of hard wood, a foot long, which is set at an obtuse angle. The ball is made of bamboo root, with a diameter of 3" to 3 1/2".  The traditional attire consists of a chin - strap ( khadangchet ) and a turban, for protecting the head. Leg - guards (khongyom ) are worn below the knee. Since no shoes are worn, the players use khumit - khang. A leash of thick leather is held by the index finger of the left hand. This is a seasonal game, and is played in the Manipuri month of Mera ( September / October ) and ends in the month of Ingen (June / July ). There is no other country in the world, where hockey is played on foot and horseback. It would not be wrong to say that Manipur was forerunner of invention of hockey, which evolved out of constant experiments with hockey on foot and horseback. [source:  http://library.advanced.org/11372/data/indigenous.htm ].

4. FOR THE NEWCOMER TO POLO:  An Explanation of the Game:

(A).  The GROUND  is 300 yards long, 160 yards wide if boarded, 200 yards wide if unboarded. The goal posts are 8 yards apart.

(B).  DURATION OF THE PLAY. The full game is 8 chukkas, but often in club matches 4 or 6 chukkas are played. Each chukka is timed to last 7 mins, then a bell is rung, but the game goes on until the ball  goes out of play, or for another 30 secs when the bell is rung again, the chukka ends where the ball is. The clock is stopped between the  umpire's whistle to stop the play and the whistle to start play (eg.ball  out of play, foul etc.).  There are intervals of 3 mins between chukkas and 5 mins at half  time. Ends are changed at every goal scored - this has been found  fairest when there is a wind.

(C).  HANDICAPS. Each player is handicapped (on a 4-6 chukka basis) from -2 up to 10 goals (the top professional players). The aggregate  handicap of the FOUR PLAYERS in a team is the team handicap. In handicap tournaments the number of goals start is obtained by multiplying the difference between the two teams' handicaps by the  number of chukkas and dividing by 6, any fraction counting a half a goal.

(D).  PONIES can play two chukkas in an afternoon with a rest of at least  one chukka in between. There is no limit to the height of ponies.

(E).  FOULS  - (i).  player following the ball on its exact line has the Right of Way over all other players. Any other player who crosses the  player on the right of way close enough to be dangerous  commits a foul. Penalties vary according to the degree of danger and closeness of the cross. (ii). No player may hook an opponent's stick unless he is on the same side of the opponent's pony as the ball.  (iii). Dangerous play or rough handling is not allowed - a player may ride an opponent off, but must not charge in at an angle.

(F).  PENALTIES. The following penalties may be given. (i). A goal is given if the cross is dangerous or deliberate in the  vicinity of the goal. The ball is then thrown in 10 yds in front of  the goal without ends being changed. (ii). Free hit from 30 yds opposite the centre of the goal -  defenders to be behind the back line and outside the goal posts but must not ride through when the ball is hit. (iii). Free hit from 40 yds, same conditions as (ii).  (iv). Free hit from 60 yds. Defenders to be 30 yds from ball.   (v). Free hit from the centre of the ground, none of the defending  side to be nearer than 30 yds when the ball is hit. (vi).Free hit from spot where the foul took place, no defender to  be nearer than 30 yds.

Corners are not taken as in Association Football - instead, a free hit  is given 60 yds from the goal from a spot opposite where the ball  was hit behind the line, none of the defending side to be nearer than 30 yds.

Captains of teams are the only players who can discuss questions arising during a Same. No player shall appeal in any manner to the  Umpire for fouls, but me Captain can discuss any matter with the Umpire.
[Source: http://www.polo.co.uk/resources/rules/html ]


Peter Grace seems to have been a familiar figure in the world of polo for almost as long as I   have been playing myself. Indeed, now that he has moved the Rangitiki Polo School to his own club nearby, I rather miss the sight of his pupils practising on chairs as I arrive to play at the Guards Polo Club! I have even played for the Rangitiki Team, in place of Peter, on more than one occasion - although without the benefit of a session on the chairs beforehand...

Sixty years ago my great-uncle, Lord Mountbatten, produced his "Introduction to Polo", but with the enormous growth in the number of people taking up the sport perhaps it is time for a more modern version to help enlighten players on the intricacies of the game.

Peter is generally regarded as one of the best instructors that there is in polo. I believe that this   book, with its excellent photographs taken by Mike Roberts and amusing sketches by John Board, will be a tremendous help, at least for the next sixty years, to both present and future polo players. [source: http://www.polo.co.uk/  ].

November 17, 1998
Contributed by IAP_MHA_CTL (The Internet Association for the Promotion of Manipuri Histroy  Art Culture Tradition and Literature).
Comments to: P.Lalit

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