GOVERNMENT SHOULD GIVE INCENTIVES TO PONY OWNERS AND POLO PLAYERS TO SAVE PONIES

GOVERNMENT SHOULD GIVE INCENTIVES TO PONY OWNERS AND POLO PLAYERS TO SAVE PONIES

WHAT IS THE USE OF PLAYING POLO AND PERMONING ITS RITUALS IF WE ARE NOT ABLE TO SAVE OUR PONIES

Inspecting the progress of the construction of a 120 ft tall statue of “Sagol Kangjei player
riding a pony” at Marjing hills by Hon’ble CM N Biren Singh
Mangka, a renowned folksinger of Manipur honouring our brave ponies in her song – Hada
Samodan Ayangba

BY SANJOO THANGJAM

In spite of the repeated warnings given by Hon’ble Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh that if any ponies are seen loitering around the nooks and corners of the city and elsewhere are not taken care of by their owners within ten days, they will be auctioned off.

However, still there are no effective measures taken up yet by whosoever responsible for their well being when we are proud that Manipur gave the world the game of Polo. Here arise few questions to ponder – why do the owners fail to keep their ponies in their stables? Aren’t there grazing grounds the owners can easily send their ponies in? Are the owners penniless to feed their ponies? Has Manipur Government given incentives to the owners of ponies? Is state government’s duty only to applause the polo teams when the polo tournaments either state level or the so called international polo tournaments are held? Is building a tall statue of pony in Marjing enough to save the ponies?

We all know that the Manipuri Ponies were excellent war ponies and were used by the cavalry of the kings of Manipur who were feared throughout Upper Burma. Even the Burmese king attacked Thailand’s Ayodhya by using Meitei cavalries. Astride swiftly charging Manipuri Ponies, Meitei horsemen flung arambai, equestrian darts that rained down on their enemies. Sacred to the Meiteis, the Manipuri Pony was never a pack, transport or work animal. Rather, ancient Meitei manuscripts, such as the Kangjeirol, the treatise on polo, depict the Manipuri Pony as a sacred animal and describe its utility as a fearless cavalry mount and a sport pony. According to the Kangjeirol, the deified ancestor King Kangba introduced sagol kangjei, the original polo game of the Meiteis. The king often raised a favored stallion to the official position of Sagol Yaisa, or the “first among ponies,” which was then accorded a special stable and a dedicated retinue of grooms. The court of the kings of Manipur appointed a “Keeper of Ponies,” called the Sagol Hanjaba, who inspected the ponies and punished owners for poor maintenance. This was seldom necessary, as almost every household in Manipur maintained ponies lovingly, as polo and ritual animals.

According to Meitei mythology, the ancestor of the Manipuri Pony is the sacred winged pony called Samadon Ayangba (“the swift first among beasts”). The mythological beast was created by the god Sanamahi to avenge the loss of his birthright to his younger brother, the god Pakhangba, the founding deity-king of our kingdom. With the help of the Nine Goddesses, Pakhangba trapped Samadon Ayangba and cut off its mane and wings. And thus, according to Manipuri legend, the Manipuri Pony was created. It is considered a sacred mount to the god Marjing, one of the guardian deities of the four directions of the valley of the Meiteis. Worshippers who come to the sacred grove of Marjing in the village of Heingang, offer little pony statues at the smaller shrine to Samadon Ayangba.

Therefore, Manipuri Pony features prominently in ballads and rituals. The story of Samadon Ayangba is sung by balladeers playing the Pena, a stringed percussive instrument, during the Lai Haraoba, the annual and pre-eminent ritual festival of creation myths of the Meiteis. Also prominent is the use of polo in the dance performance of the maibi, the Meitei shaman priestess, in Lai Nupithiba, the “Wedding of the God,” an episode of the Lai Haraoba. The maibi’s performance, accompanied by balladeers, tells of the bachelor-god Khoriphaba, the son of Marjing, when he goes in search of his bride riding a pony and carrying a polo stick.

The Manipuri Pony is still used for polo in Manipur. Even today, the game is not a “rich man’s game” but is played by commoners, and many villages have polo fields. The main tournaments are still held on the three traditional polo grounds built by the kings of Manipur’s Ningthouja dynasty in 33 CE. These consist of the Manung Kangjeibung (inner polo ground), within the ramparts of the Kangla Fort, where only royalty and noblemen were allowed to play. This may be the world’s oldest polo ground. Public games are also held at the Mapan Kangjeibung (outer polo ground), outside the western gate of Kangla Fort. Weekly polo games called Hapta Kangjei are also played on a polo ground outside the present-day palace.

Manipur holds three state-level tournaments every year with prized trophies awarded such as the Governor’s Cup and the Hazari Cup. These are organized by the All Manipur Polo Association, the oldest polo association in the state, and the Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Association.

All these show the inseparability of ponies from Manipuri society in many aspects. However, we fail to preserve and protect ponies in their birthplace, Manipur.

On June, 27, 2022 Manipur Hon’ble Chief Minister N. Biren Singh appealed to protect the Manipuri pony which is on the verge of extinction while inspecting a 30-acre Pony Breeding Ground at Lamphelpat, Imphal West which was allocated to Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Association (MHRPA). He also inspected a pony breeding site at Pangei, Imphal East.

Reports said that grazing grounds for the ponies are developed at both the places, Lamphel and Pangei. Then, why the ponies are still roaming on the city roads and streets around Greater Imphal area? Is the government taking more interest in breeding ponies than providing grazing grounds because reports said that pony breeding sites are developed at Lamphel and Pangei.

If it is properly planned both the breeding site and grazing ground for ponies can co-exist. If the two sites Lamphel and Pangei are provided as grazing grounds for ponies, there is no reason for the ponies to roam in and around Imphal City and Greater Imphal Area.

It is needed to ponder that there is something which stumble the owners to send their ponies in the two grazing grounds?

Therefore, the Government needs to examine seriously and plan to encourage the owners of ponies to send them in the two grazing grounds by giving incentives if the Government is seriously determined to save ponies and just applauding the polo teams during polo tournaments and parroting the importance of ponies without really saving the ponies, playing polo will become meaningless.

Now, it is also the need of the hour to explore where the ponies can be utilized productively during off seasons of polo games – like using them as tourist attractions be it horse riding or pulling carts to ferry tourists. More importantly, to save ponies, the government should give incentives to the owners of ponies and polo players if determined and committed to save ponies. If these are not taken up to save the ponies, then what is the use of playing polo as ritual?

(The writer is a Sub-Editor of The Morning Bell)

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