The Founding of Calcutta Polo Club
At 156 years old, the Calcutta Polo Club is the oldest polo club in the world. In 1860-61, two British soldiers, Robert Stewart and Joe Shearer, saw a game called Sagol Kangjei or Pulu played by locals on horses in Manipur. Impressed by this game, the soldiers introduced it to their peers in Kolkata and in 1862, the Calcutta Polo Club was founded, followed by the creation of a new format.
Polo was a popular sport among the royalty in India during Mughal times and was probably of Afghan or Persian import. In the first century of British rule, various regional forms of polo survived in the remote mountain passes of Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan, Chitral, and Manipur. After its rediscovery by the British army in these areas, the Calcutta Polo Club pioneered the effort to modernize the game by drafting a new, uniform and internationally applicable rulebook. This increased the popularity and attraction of the sport throughout the British Empire. Playing polo became an integral part of military life in India, and often young soldiers were introduced to the game as a rite of passage into the regiment.
During misty winters in the colonial period, Calcutta was the main place of entertainment for India’s royal families and the aristocratic British. All of the big names in the country’s celebrity circuit could be found in the Calcutta Polo Club during polo season, including the Maharaja of Burdwan, Maharaja of Cooch Behar, Nizam of Hyderabad, Duke of Edinburgh, Prince of Wales, and Sultan of Brunei. Some of the patrons of Indian polo, like Maharaja Sawai Man Singh of Jaipur, Col Maharaj Prem Singh, and Rao Raja Hanut Singh played historic matches at the Pat Williamson polo grounds in Calcutta – the oldest in the world. It was in this ground that the legendary Gayatri Devi, the princess of Cooch Behar, fell in love with her future husband Sawai Man Singh.
Polo in Calcutta suffered two temporary setbacks during the First and the Second World Wars. However, as a sport patronized and funded by Royal families, the major blow came in the 1970s, when then-Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi abolished the privy purses of these families. Hence, maintaining the 20-25 horses required for each polo team became an unnecessary expense. This was coupled with an acute lack of sponsorship and general interest in the game. This was when Maharaja Prem Singh, along with a few of his peers at the Calcutta Polo Club meticulously worked to revive the game.
In 2006, Mr. Keshav Bangur, the President of the Calcutta Polo Club, revived the regular Polo season in Kolkata and undertook efforts to make the sport more accessible and to create a fanbase for it. Today, the Calcutta Polo Club is working on community outreach to connect the history of the sport to the next generation. The club offers courses on horseback riding and polo at the club stable under an experienced coach from the 61st Cavalry of the Indian Army. Finally, the history gallery in the club’s Park Street office is open to visitors, who can see important artifacts from the early history of the game, from the first Ezra Cup to the oldest polo watch.
The Ezra Cup
The Calcutta Polo Club is the home of the Ezra Cup, the world’s oldest polo trophy, started in 1880. It also continues to hold the Carmichael Cup (established in 1910) and the Stewarts Cup (established in 1932). The Ezra Cup is named after David Elias Ezra, a leading Jewish business tycoon in Calcutta who patronized the sport in the city.
In 2017, the Calcutta Polo Club held the first Ezra Cup outside of the country, hosted by the Singapore Polo Club, to spread the love of the game and spread awareness of the sport’s history. The trophy was exhibited at to the top five Polo Centres in different parts of the globe. This gave a unique opportunity for the polo enthusiasts worldwide to be a part of this legendary trophy.
Post the successful launch of the Ezra Global Tour in Singapore in 2017, the Calcutta Polo Club is all set to begin the second chapter of Ezra, in form of Ezra 2018!
Since the idea is to allow this journey to reach out to polo enthusiasts and patrons, this time the Ezra is traveling to the United Kingdom. Ezra 2018 is going to be part of SUPA i.e., the Schools & Universities Polo Association, UK. SUPA was established to promote polo among the schools and universities. This time it will be held at The Rugby Polo Club, UK.
The finalists of the Open Tournament of SUPA will be competing for the Ezra Cup. It will be a two-day tournament scheduled on 10th and 11th February 2018 with a dinner with teams and delegates on the first night.
The following are a few of the participating teams in the tournament:
- Bristol University – Thomas Barlow, Izzy McGregor, Atalanta (Lolly) Stanhope- White
- Bristol ACI – Magnus Gilje, Michael Popp, Robin Ormerod
- Oxford University– James Coats, Charlie Hitchman, Heather Winsor
The winners to be etched on the Ezra forever!
Disclaimer: The post is a modified version of the official press release for Ezra 2018. Unless otherwise stated, all images are the copyright of Calcutta Polo Club and may not be reused without permission.