Polo in Rajasthan
Rajputs have been keen equestrian and they take to the horses like a fish to water. Their taking to polo in big way was only natural. Their association with polo dates back to the Mughal period and miniature paintings at the Mehrangarh Fort bear testimony to this early introduction to the game. However, Polo did not become a passion until the British period when it became a natural and a marvelous peacetime pursuit.
It was in 1889, when the colorful Prime Minister of Jodhpur Sir Partap Singh invited the Bengal Lancers to raise the Jodhpur Lancers; Polo was introduced to Jodhpur in its current modern form. Three years later Jodhpur raised its Polo Team, which won many accolades home and abroad. In 1897, when Sir Pratap traveled to London for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, he took his polo team along, amongst the very first Indian teams to travel abroad, and, for that matter, foreign teams to invade England and create history.
They won many matches there, at Hurlingham and Ranelagh, and returned with their reputation enhanced; the finest Indian team during those years. Rajasthan produced many great Polo players, which include Sir Partap Singh, Rao Raja Hanut Singh, Thakur Hari Singh and the colorful Maharaja Man Singh II of Jaipur, who took over the pride of jodhpur as an inevitable gift by being the suave son in law of Jodhpur. Thus the best of the players and the finest of the polo ponies were shifted to the royal house of Jaipur, the rest is history.
This super premium category sport still thrives in Rajasthan and has seen a quantum jump in its popularity as a life style sport. It has attracted attention from corporate houses for sponsorship. It has also attracted interest of the Prime Minister of India, many celebrities and the army. Today, polo is not just restricted to the royalty and the Indian Army, many companies and firms too patronize the sport. Polo facilities are on the rise and polo holidays in India too are in vogue. Especially in Rajasthan.
The superb synchronization between man and his horse, the amazing speed, the brute power, with the backdrop of green arena makes for most exclusive and glorious sport of all. Rajasthan also gave the game its Royal Tradition with patronage of the Maharajas, which earns it the nicknames The Game of Kings-The King of Games. Rajasthan still stages exciting Polo games and is treat for the tourist to watch this game that demands extreme physical and mental condition.
The Jaipur Royals were a formidable polo playing family, and the last maharaja of the state literally died with his spurs on, on a polo field. With the glamour of the game, they drew international publicity for India, and the sport has remained one of the most prominent in the elite social circuit. Along with Jaipur, there are also formidable polo teams in Jodhpur and Udaipur, while the 61st Cavalry, also based in Jaipur, has kept it alive in the army.
It is not possible to simply arrive and start playing polo, since the sport needs especially bred horses in large numbers. These are largely maintained by the players themselves, or with the help of their sponsors. You will therefore have to seek out an invitation to play, something you are best advised to do in advance. However, it is possible to send in a special request while planning your trip to Rajasthan, especially if you are a group with polo-playing members. This is important because, in season, when the game is played (September-March), the polo teams are often out (in Delhi, Calcutta or Mumbai) on the circuit, or may even be playing overseas. Of course, there is also the chance of having visiting teams in Rajasthan coinciding with the time of your visit. Even if you do not get the chance to play, there is every chance of being able to watch the sport as an observer - which is almost as good as playing. There is something extremely satisfying about watching men on their horses as they pursue the ball with their sticks with skill and adroitness.
Nepal and Rajasthan are the only two places where polo is played on elephant-back. Though not a serious sport, it attracts the international media because of the oddity of a fast game played from the backs of pachyderms who can hardly move as fast in the confined space of a stadium. It is, however, amusing to watch. Though elephant polo too can be specially organized on request, competitions are arranged annually at Jaipur's Chaugan during Holi (February-March).
Elephants have been a part of Indian culture since time immemorial. They are representative of the strength and power of Kings and Emperors. It was therefore natural that polo, the king of sports and the sport of kings, was adapted for play on elephant-back.
Unlike horse polo which is fast paced, elephant polo is more relaxing and leisurely. It is enthralling to watch the enormous pachyderms pursuing the ball at their own majestic pace.
Jaipur, the city of emperors, palaces and forts has had a long and colorful association with elephants. No festival, no occasion, no religious rite, no wedding would be complete without an array of gaily decorated, well caparisoned elephants.
Jaipur is the only place in the world where on can witness this exclusive sport being played throughout the year. Watching it, is an unique and unforgettable experience. The colossal size of the elephant evokes awe yet its docile nature, it's graceful gait and the wisdom of its eyes have always fascinated man.