Manipur’s legacy of the quadruped kind : The Tribune India

Manipur’s legacy of the quadruped kind

Manipur’s legacy of the quadruped kind

Photo for representational purpose only. - File photo

Lt Gen Baljit Singh (Retd)

THE disturbances in Manipur have prompted me to find solace in a precious piece of memorabilia — a horse head in solid bronze on a modest pedestal, etched with ‘Sagol — Kangjei... Manipur 91’. It was conceived by a colleague from the Army’s Remount & Veterinary Corps. Passionate about reviving Manipur’s cultural legacy, he had the figurine fabricated by an artisan in Imphal.

In the Meitei dialect, Sagol stands for ‘pony’ (not just any equine but the exclusive Manipuri pony) and Kangjei is a compound word denoting bamboo stick and ‘Pulu’, the latter a ball carved from bamboo root. The Guinness Book of Records (1991 edition) lends credence to Manipur being the birthplace of polo as the sport was first played there in 1605. In Meitei mythology, Pulu’s origin dates back to 3100 BC!

My colleague’s initiative was a thundering success as, backed by the coffers of some corporate establishments, he was able to get two Manipuri polo teams and another from Argentina (the world’s lowest handicap-ranked, for 10 years running!) for exhibition matches in Imphal.

Admittedly, British tea planters and civil service administrators of the Assam valley had provided it patronage, but polo was to remain essentially the sport of Manipur’s commoners. In 1982, Manipuri school and college girls threw their hats into the polo arena. For Manipuri women polo players, the high noon arrived in 2016 when an American sports sponsor, ‘Huntre! Equine’, brought US women players for exhibition matches concurrent with the celebrations of the Manipur Statehood Day. Buoyed by the rush of spectators in Imphal, the sponsor gambled with repeat performances at two prominent polo destinations (Jaipur and New Delhi) under the fancy banner of ‘Cow Girls V Gopis’.

Possibly, these polo fixtures inspired Roopa Barua to conceive and produce a 33-minute documentary film, Daughters of Polo God, featuring four Manipuri girls — Irom Sangeeta, Jetholia Thongbam, Victoria Oinam and Neelu RK — with their Manipuri ponies. Barua’s film won the Director’s Award for the Best Documentary at the Equus Film Festival in New York in 2018. Daughters of Polo God was screened to full houses across the USA, the UK, France, Italy and South America. Today, Manipur boasts of not one but five women’s polo teams.

Manipur’s legacy is also founded on another quadruped, sangai, the brow-antlered deer. Deservedly, sangai is the state animal as it is found only in Manipur and that too in and around the Loktak Lake. Sangai has both terrestrial and aquatic habitats. The lake has many floating mini islands called phumdis. After feeding ashore and in particular to ward off predators, the sangai wisely returns to the safety of the phumdis. And as it walks about, its legs sink slightly into the floating sponge, giving the illusion of a rhythmic movement and providing an alternative name, the Dancing Sangai.

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