Polo – an ancient team sport

Say ‘Polo’ and it brings to mind different things for different people. Some visualize the car, others the US Polo logo and yet others might think of designer Ralph Lauren’s ‘Polo Ralph Lauren’ luxury line. There will be those whose tongues will go cool with the memory of ‘Polo’ mints (not available in the US, but very similar to Lifesavers)

I can bet not many would think of the sport polo.

Polo – some history



“Polo game from poem Guy u Chawgan”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Polo_game_from_poem_Guy_u_Chawgan.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Polo_game_from_poem_Guy_u_Chawgan.jpg

The image above is a Persian miniature from the poem Guy-o Chawgân (“the Ball and the Polo-mallet”) during Safavid dynasty of Persia, which shows Persian courtiers on horseback playing a game of polo, 1546 AD.

Sometimes it’s a great advantage to grow up in a household where people are well traveled. I grew up listening to my grandfather (whose namesake I am) speak of sports/games he had seen as he traveled the world on work. My grandfather had watched a polo match for the first time in Asia.

Polo has come from an old team sport called chovgan, whose origins are lost in the sands of time. Played by ancient kingdoms stretching from Constantinople to Japan, chovgan was an elite sport played by riders on specially trained horses. The sport was also very popular in the Mogul courts of India.  Stables belonging to Akbar the Great are still standing in Delhi, India. Today it is played in about 50 countries around the world. The dominant teams are from the US, Argentina, and the UK.

The game


“Terrains de polo et de football (US compliant)” by Sébastien Santoro aka Dereckson – Own work. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Terrains_de_polo_et_de_football_(US_compliant).svg#mediaviewer/File:Terrains_de_polo_et_de_football_(US_compliant).svg

A polo ground is vast as the sport is played on horseback. The image above should give you an idea of how large. Two teams of 4 players in each play against each other. The riders use a long handled mallet(called a polo stick) to hit a ball into the opposing team’s goal. The team which scores the most, wins.

The game has multiple rounds of play called ‘chakkers’ of seven minutes each. The ‘chakkers’ and the breaks roughly add up to about 60-90 mins. This is a game where the rules ensure the safety of both the rider and the ‘pony’ (as the mount is traditionally called, in spite of the ‘pony’ being a full grown horse).

 Interesting trivia about Polo

The name ‘polo’ is supposed to come from the Tibetan word for ball ‘pulu’

In the Mameluke dynasty, playing cards features polo sticks.

The British picked up the game from Manipur in northeast India. From thereon it spread to the west. In the old game played in Manipur the teams were bigger and it was a much faster game.

Both Mogul kings and queens played this sport.

The rules of polo allow mixed teams of men and women.

All players have to hit the ball from their right side. Even the left-handers.

The Jodhpur breeches were introduced to the English in 1887 by Pratap Singh of the Jodhpur team who designed them.

Some variants of polo are ‘elephant polo’, ‘camel polo’, ‘segway polo’ and event eh ‘yak polo’!




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