JANUARY   2002
about us             contact us                              data bank              past issues             the craft shop                                          the print gallery



JANUARY 2002 Contents


 Pakistani Literature
 - Evolution & Trends

 V S Naipaul
His Nobel Lecture

 Visual Arts

 South Asian Art - shared
 cultural frontier
- shared
 cultural frontier

 Rare photographs of Indian
 nobility found at Lafayette


 The Jullundur Brigade


 India & China - major global
 players by 2025

 Foreign Investors in India's 
 IT Industry


 Muzaffar Ali


 Shandur Polo Festival

 Chogan - the original Polo

 Indian Polo turns Blue Chip


 'Knock at Every Alien Door'
 - Serialisation of an
 unpublished novel by
 Joseph Harris


Boston Peace March


the craft shop

the print gallery


Silk Road on Wheels

The Road to Freedom

Enduring Spirit

Parsis-Zoroastrians of

The Moonlight Garden

Contemporary Art in Bangladesh



Page  2  of  2



Chogan-f.jpg (55454 bytes) 
"Chogân" by Master Mahmmoud Farshchiyâ



provided by

 Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies 
School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS),

University of London 


Polo spreads East & West

Polo has became popular among other nations such as China, it was the royal pastime for many centuries.  The Chinese most probably learned the game either from the Iranian nobility who sought refuge in Chinese courts after the invasion of Iranian Empire by the Arabs, or from  the  Indian tribes who were taught by the Iranians. The polo stick appears on Chinese royal coats of arms and the game was part of the court life in the golden age of Chinese classical culture under Ming-Hung, the Radiant Emperor, who was an enthusiastic patron of equestrian activities. Less cultured, one might think, was the reaction of Emperor Tai Tsu  in 910 CE. who according to one source, ordered all the players beheaded after a favourite was killed in a match.

The Japanese learnt polo from the Chinese, while across the Continent the game spread as far West as Egypt, with the Arab conquests of the Iran beginning in the 7th century. The game occupied an exalted place in Islamic court life, Haroon-al-Rashid being the first of the Abbasid Caliphs to play. The polo stick was an important motif in Islamic, was well as Chinese heraldry, and the Jukandar Polo Master, was a well-known official in the Caliphs's entourage.

It seems strange that the Crusaders did not take polo back to Europe with them, but the game did reach Constantinople under the Byzantines. The 12th century ruler, Manuel I was a patron of polo and it is recorded that one of his successors Emperor Hohannes Chinnasus, played until his leg and arm were crushed in a bad fall during match. The Muslim conquerors also took the game eastward with them, to the Indian subcontinent where it was played by the Muslim rulers and adopted by local Kings and Princes as well. In a dusty, back alley near Anarkali Bazar in Lahore stands a monument to Sultan Qutabuddin Aibak, a 13th century King who died when his pony fell during a polo match.

It was about this time that the hordes of Changiz Khan swept down from the North to conquer all the Iranian realm and Asia Minor. If his followers had not already played the game, they certainly learnt it from the Iranians. One legend has it that Timurlane, a descendent of  Changiz, once ordered his cavalry to play polo with the heads of their captives. When a follower of Timurlane, Babar, founded the Mughal Empire in India in the 16th century, he played polo and established it as the most popular of royal sports for his successors. Akbar was especially fond of the game, sometimes playing at night by torchlight. His vast stables, which can still be seen near Agra, housed his favourite polo ponies. The most spectacular tribute to polo in antiquity is a city laid out around a Kings Polo Ground.

Towards the end of the 16th century, the capital of the Safavid Empire was moved to Esfahan from Qazvin, and Shah Abbas the Great decided to redesign the city to make it the most beautiful in the world. He planned his city around a vast, central square, the Maydan-e-Shah or Naqsh-e Jahan. The maydan, which served as the royal polo ground, was about 500 yards long and 150 yards wide and at each end were stone goal posts eight yards apart, which is today the regulation width of a polo goal.  At approximately midfield the Shah built a seven-storey palace, Ali-Qapu. As the central feature of the palace his architects designed a towering royal gallery, its roof supported by 18 graceful, wooden columns. At the south end of the field just beyond the goal posts Shah Abbas constructed the magnificent Masjed-Shah, whose mosaic domes and minarets make it one of the most beautiful in the World. Beyond the northern goal is the elaborately decorated Qaysariya Gateway leading to the Royal Bazaar. The stone goal posts, as well as the palace, the mosque and the bazaar can still be seen today, although ornamental pools and gardens have replaced the field where ponies galloped and mallets flayed centuries ago. The Bazaar in Esfahan offers, in addition to the normal wares of an Eastern market, an astonishing variety of souvenirs decorated with old polo scenes copied from Persian miniatures.

One can note at sites like Esfahan and in ancient art and literature certain differences in polo of past centuries and the game as we know it today. The fields were often longer and narrower. Teams were frequently much larger than the four-a-side standard of today. The game was sometimes started with the ball placed at midfield and the two teams charging one another from opposite ends; sometimes the ball was thrown into the air and hit towards goal to start a match.

Mallets were of shapes, which would appear curious to the players of today. In Japan and in Byzantium, the sticks carried racquet heads rather than mallet heads and a leather-covered ball was used.  


 Three 16th century Iranian Chogân (Polo) sticks

 Chogan_Sticks.jpg (21531 bytes)           

For more than 20 centuries polo remained a favourite of the rulers of Asia, who played the game or were its patrons. Their Queens played, as did the nobility and the mounted warriors. Polo for non-Iranians was the nearest equivalent to a national sport in those times, from Japan to Egypt, from India to Byzantium. As the great Eastern Empires collapsed, however, so disappeared the glittering court life of which polo has been so important a part, and the game itself was preserved only in remote villages.

Gilgit in Kashmir, is such a village, situated between the great Karakoram Range and the Hindu Khush north of Kashmir. Here one can still watch polo as it was played centuries ago. In the absence of a King’s court the polo scene at Gilgit could be taken straight from Persian miniatures.






Copyright © 2000 - 2001 []. Intellectual Property. All rights reserved.