The sport of kings

My heart began pumping adrenaline in huge quantities as four identically clad horsemen charged headlong over a pot covered field measuring 300 from 160 yards, swinging long mallet like ‘sticks’ in a bid to move a hard wooden ball into the target, while an equivalent number of both skillful and adventurous riders attired in a different colour, desperately tried to thwart them together with no apparent idea for their life or limbs. With heart racing, I watched the game, vowing as to not do so again for ‘health’s sake’, but each season, I am inexorably drawn into the place, where together with bated breath, so I stand watch to an early relationship between man and horse as they indulge at the Sport of Kings – Polo.

The pedigree of the game can be traced back into a person between the 6th Century BC and the 1st Century AD, as a favorite tribal in the Hindu Kush, the Central Asian grasslands beyond and China, where it spread into Persia in the West and Manipur in the East. The game’s look in Persia is said to be through the period of the Parthian Empire i.e. 247 BC into 224 AD, where it flourished into the 16th Century from the title of ‘Chaugan’, under popular patronage of and nobility. Some British historians state that the phrase (chaugan) was derived from the ‘rod’ transported by the players, while others link it together with the amount of riders in each facet. The former version however, seems to be accurate because the ‘group of four’ is a relatively modern invention. The present name ‘Polo’ however seems to have been derived from the Tibetan word ‘Pulu’ or ‘ball’. This could well be right since the ‘ball and stick game on challenging ridden ponies’ was widely used in ancient Tibet.

The ferocity and passion of the means by which the game was played over centuries can be borne by the toll it’s taken on its playing fields. The Byzantine Emperor Alexander, who died from exhaustion while hotly engaged in pursuing the ball ; King John I of Trebizond, who uttered his last due to a deadly injury suffered through the game; Sultan Kutubuddin Aibak from the Slave Dynasty, who became a casualty of this , when his horse fell, impaling its rider around the pommel.

From Persia, the game spread into South Asia and the Sub Continent, where it continued to be patronized by the Mughal emperors and after the British. The modern game of polo is based from Manipur, where it was called ‘Pulu’ and it is in all probability, the anglicized form of this phrase, which was adopted by the in its own slow spread into the West. Lieutenant (later Major General) Joseph Ford Sherer, credited as the father of modern polo is believed to have introduced the game in England. The English can also be credited with spreading polo globally in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. This was in 1875 that British settlers in the Argentine pampas organized the very first formal polo game of the country at Buenos Aires, setting the stage for Argentina to develop into a leading polo playing country along with popularizing the at Brazil, Chile and Mexico. The charge of introducing the game in USA should again go the English. It’s widely considered that British Texans organized the very first formal polo match in Galveston someplace in 1876.

In Pakistan this exciting fight for the ball saw many patrons among the army and people who could afford to keep strings of polo ponies. It’s however at the Northern Areas i.e. Gilgit, Chitral, Hunza and Baltistan, where this game has endured and flourished as centuries. The most scenic manifestation of the is during the annual Shandur Polo Tournament between conventional rival teams of Gilgit and Chitral. This can be polo in its own older ‘raw energy’ type — even a no holds barred game that enthralls foreign and local visitors at a setting that takes one back in time.

For those spectators watching the foam flecked horses, their intrepid riders and their ability using rein and spur, this really is ample evidence that what they’re seeing is indeed a ‘Sport of Kings’.

The author is a historian.

The present name ‘Polo’ however seems to have been derived from the Tibetan word ‘Pulu’ or ‘ball’. This might well be right since the ‘ball and stick game on hard ridden
Ponies’ was widely popular in ancient Tibet.