Polo (also known as Cho-gan) is a team game played on a field with one goal for each team. Each team has three (enclosed arena) or four (fullsized grass field) players. Polo features successive periods called "chukkas", and riders score by driving a ball into the opposing team's goal using a long-handled mallet. In this it is similar to many team sports such as football and field hockey. The main difference is that the players play on horseback.
- "Let other people play other things — the king of game is still the game of kings"
This verse is inscribed on a stone tablet next to a polo ground in Gilgit, north of Kashmir, near the fabled silk route from China to the West. In one ancient sentence it epitomises the feelings of the players today.
Polo is arguably one of the most complex of games in the world. The precise origin of polo is obscure and undocumented and there is ample evidence of the game's regal place in the history of Asia. No one knows where or when stick first met ball after the horse was domesticated by the ancient Iranian (Aryan) tribes of Central Asia before their migration to Iranian plateau; but it seems likely that as the use of light cavalry spread throughout Iranian plateau, Asia Minor, China and the Indian sub-continent so did this rugged game on horse back. However, many scholars believe that polo originated among the Iranian tribes sometime before the reign of Darius the Great (521–485 BC) and his cavalry forged the Second Iranian Empire, the Achaemenid dynasty. Certainly it is Persian literature and art, which give us the richest accounts of polo in antiquity.
Ferdowsi, the most famous of Iranian poet-historian, gives a number of accounts of royal polo tournaments in his 9th century epic, Shahnameh (the Epic of Kings). Some believe that the Chinese (the Mongols) were the first to try their hands at the game, but in the earliest account, Ferdowsi romanticizes an international match between Turanian force and the followers of Siy‚vash, a legendary Persian prince from the earliest centuries of the Empire. The poet is eloquent in his praise of Siy‚vash's skills on the polo field. Ferdowsi also tells of Emperor S‚pour-II of Sasanian dynasty of the 4th Century AD , who learn to play polo when he was only seven years old.
Polo has became popular among other nations such as Chinese, as was the royal pastime for many centuries. Chinese most probably having learned the game from the Iranians nobilities who seek refuge in Chinese courts after the invasion of Iranian Empire by the Arabs, or possibly by same Indian tribes who were taught by the Iranians. The polo stick appears on Chinese royal coats of arms and the game was part of the court life in the golden age of Chinese classical culture under Ming-Hung , the Radiant Emperor, who as an enthusiastic patron of equestrian activities.
For more than 20 centuries polo remained a favourite of the rulers of Asia, who played the game or were its patrons. Their Queens played, as did the nobility and the mounted warriors.
Polo for non-Iranians was the nearest equivalent to a national sport in those times, from Japan to Egypt, from India to Byzantium. As the great Eastern Empires collapsed, however, so disappeared the glittering court life of which polo has been so important a part, and the game itself was preserved only in remote villages
Polo came to the west via Manipur, a North Eastern state in India. The Guinness Book of Records in its 1991 edition (page 288) traces the origins of the game to Manipur c. 3100 B.C. where it was known as Sagol Kangjei . According to historical accounts, one British government official stationed in Manipur (then a princely state) during the late 19th century, wrote an account of the sport and its popularity spread.
As further proof, it is recorded during the House of Lords debate on Jubraj Tikendrajit 's trial on 22nd June 1891, the Marques of Ripon said about Manipur "it is a small State (Manipur), 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,"
The 10th Hussars at Aldershot, Hants, introduced the game to England from India in 1869. The game's governing body is the Hurligham Polo Association , which drew up the first set of rules in 1874, many of which are still in existence.
The sport became popular amongst European nobility but during the early part of 20th century, under the leadership of Harry Payne Whitney , polo changed to become a high-speed sport in the United States, differing from the game in England where it involved short passes to move the ball toward the opposition's goal. Whitney and his teammates used the fast break, sending long passes downfield to riders who had broken away from the pack at a full gallop.
In modern day times the sport of polo is now being played on the professional level in the United States. The United States Women's Polo Federation "USWPF" was founded in 2000 at the turn of the century by society horsewoman Kimberly Carr-Cavallo to establish, organize, coordinate and promote sport of professional women's polo. The sixteen (16) team polo league is the first ever in U.S. or international polo history to play at the major league level in the professional sports market.
Some other facts about the game:
- The oldest royal polo square is the 16th century Maidan-Shah in Isfahan, Iran.
- The oldest Polo Club in the world still in existence is the Calcutta Polo Club (1862).
- The 10th Hussars at Aldershot, Hants, introduced the game to England from India in 1869
- United States Women's Polo Federation
- Atlanta Polo Museum
- Article about Polo from School of Oriental Studies in London.
- A site with lots of information about Polo , including the history of the sport, playing rules and direct contact with polo players
- Buzkashi involves two teams of horsemen, a dead goat and few rules. The national game of Afghanistan and a likely precursor of polo.
- Polocrosse is another game played on horseback.
- Canoe polo is a polo game involving people in a canoe instead of on horseback.
- Elephant polo is a polo game played by people riding elephants.
- Segway polo is a recently created polo game played on Segway HT scooters.
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