Sagol Kangjei is the name of the game of polo played in Manipur. Sagol means pony / horse, kang means a ball or round object, and jei is a stick used for hitting. Polo has, for time immemorial, been a game patronised by the royalty and the upper crust of society, not only in India but abroad. However in the state of Manipur, it has always been a game for the common man. It is a seven - a - side game, the players mounted on ponies.
According to a renowned Sanskrit scholar, Pandit Sharma, Manipuri polo goes back to the year 3100 B.C. Other Manipuri scholars trace the game chronologically to many centuries before Christ ( 2000 - 1500 B.C. ), while some place it around 34 A.D. According to Kangjeiron Purana, which is really the history of hockey in the state, polo was first played in Manipur, and therefore, it got the name Sagol Kangjei - sagol ( horse ) and kangjei ( hockey ).
It is believed that Sagol-Kangjei was invented by Ningthou Kangba for the first time in Manipur. So, the term Kaang-Chei or Kang-Jei (a hockey or stick made of cane), Kang-droom (a ball made of bamboo root) was taken after the name Kangba. This story was written in "Kangjeirol" (the story of Kangjei). The same game was played during the time of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba with Namu Pong, the followers of Poireiton, the ruler of Manipur (34-18 BC) and their descendants being on one side and Lai (which means those followers and descendants of Tangja Leela Pakhangba, the father of Ningthou Kangba), being the other side as proposed by Leima Laisra, the beloved wife of Nongda Lairen Pakhangba. Marjing of the Lai-group was the authority for the game on horse. Since then Lai and Namu-Pong were amalgamated to form the Meitei group, which started with Tangja Leela Pakhangba`s time with intermarriages among three different tribes, namely Tang-Shang, Lei-Hou and Kou tribes. [Source: An Approach to the History of Meiteis and Thais by Keertichand Tensuba, 1993].
Manipuri polo symbolises the immense cultural heritage of the state, and great efforts have been put made to raise the standard of this popular game. The prominent patrons of the game were King Kyamba and King Khagemba ( 1597-1672 A.D.), and King Chandra Kirti ( 1850 - 1886 A.D.). The latter, especially, is to be credited with popularising the sport in other parts of the world.
How the game is played
Each player in Sagol Kangjei assumes a specific position on the field.
a) Pun - Ngak ( Full back )
b) Pun - Ngakchun ( Half back )
c) Pulluk ( Left wing )
d) Langjei ( Centre )
e) Pulluk ( Right wing )
f) Pun Jen ( Inner )
g) Pun - Jenchun ( Inner )
There are no goal posts in this game. Goal lines determine the end of the two boundaries of the rectangular field. The ball ( kangdrum ) is white in colour. To score a goal the ball must cross the line.
The polo stick is made of cane or wood, and is called kang - hu. It is 4 to 4 1/2 ft in length, and has a head of hard wood, a foot long, which is set at an obtuse angle. The ball is made of bamboo root, with a diameter of 3" to 3 1/2".
The traditional attire consists of a chin - strap ( khadangchet ) and a turban, for protecting the head. Leg - guards ( khongyom ) are worn below the knee. Since no shoes are worn, the players use khumit - khang. A leash of thick leather is held by the index finger of the left hand. This is a seasonal game, and is played in the Manipuri month of Mera ( September / October ) and ends in the month of Ingen ( June / July ). There is no other country in the world, where hockey is played on foot and horseback. It would not be wrong to say that Manipur was forerunner of invention of hockey, which evolved out of constant experiments with hockey on foot and horseback.