Polo in India was originally played in Gilgit, Chitral and Manipur. It was very popular with the Moghul Emperors who called it Chaugan. In fact it was the Emperor Akbar who was the first person to introduce a set of rules for the game. Qutb-ud-din-Aibak died while playing polo at Lahore and the polo grounds in Lahore are named after him.
The name polo is said to have been derived from the Tibetan word “pulu”, meaning ball. The first polo club was established in the town of Silchar in Assam, India, in 1834.
Polo, as it is now played, was introduced to India and the world by a British Cavalry Regiment and tea planters stationed in India (Manipur) during the 1860s, but is derived from the game played by the exiled princes of the Tibeto-Burman kingdom of Manipur (now a state in India) sometime between 1819 and 1826 on indeginious ponies. The international rules for the game were framed after the First World War and now POLO is played under these rules everywhere.
The Indian Polo Association was formed in 1892. Some of the prominent teams at that time were Alwar, Bhopal, Bikaner, Jaipur, Hyderabad, Patiala, Jodhpur, Kishengarh and Kashmir. Majority of the Cavalry regiments of the British and the British Indian Army also fielded teams. The prominent amongst these were the Central India Horse (CHI), Prince Albert Victor Own Cavalry (PAVO’s Cav), the Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, the 10th Royal Hussars, the 15th Lancers, and the 17/21st Lancers.
In 1933 the famous Jaipur team established a record, which is unlikely ever to be beaten, by winning all the open tournaments in Britain and the Indian Championship. The team won the Indian Open Championship every year from 1930 to 1938.
The second World War and the mechanization of the Cavalry were severe setbacks to Polo. Post-independence, the Indian Polo Association decided that the best way to revive interest in Polo was to invite a foreign team to play exhibition matches at different centres. In 1950 the Argentine Polo team was invited to participate in tournaments in Jaipur, Delhi and Bombay. In 1955 the Pakistan Army Polo team visited India. These visits greatly enhanced and revived interest in Polo in the country.
The Calcutta Polo Club which is the oldest polo club in the world, was the first club to start holding tournaments again post-independence. Jaipur, Delhi, Bombay and Hyderabad also now hold regular tournaments.
In 1956, after a lapse of 17 years, the Indian Polo Championship was revived and has since been played regularly. In the year 1957, India sent an official polo team to participate in the World Championship in France. The team comprising Major Kishen Singh, Kr Bijay Singh, Rao Raja Hanut Singh and Maharaja Sawai Man Singh of Jaipur, won the championship beating all other teams which included many great players from England, Argentina, Spain, Mexico and France.
An important transition in Indian polo was the adoption of polo by the Indian Army. With the Indian Army taking over the development and support of the sport, it ensured the survival of polo in very difficult times. With access to grounds and horses, the Indian Army took to this sport passionately and threw up a number of distinguished legendary players. The Army carried forward the polo tradition to the era of economic liberalization and corporate tzars. With a happy and condusive homogeneity amongst the Army and its civil counterparts, the sport today is on an upswing.
The Late President of India, Shri Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed had kindly consented to be the Patron-in-Chief of the Indian Polo Association and a new trophy called “The President’s Cup” was introduced in 1975. The Trophy is played in rotation at Delhi, Calcutta, Bombay and Jaipur.
In the year 1992 the IPA completed 100 years and since then polo is on an upward trend in the country. Today we have 33 Polo Clubs registered with IPA. Polo has been revived at Leh in Jammu and Kashmir, at Udaipur and Jodhpur in Rajasthan, Hyderabad and Bangalore in South India. Polo is now not only the domain of the Army but a number of corporate and industrial houses are supporting teams in the domestic polo circuit.