After the era of Maharana Fateh Singh Ji, the game of polo saw a dip in its popularity. Now, with the Chunda Polo Club, started by the scions of some noble families of Mewar, the game is riding back to success in the region.
On 25 December 2020, the rustic roads leading to the sleepy village of Bujra near Udaipur suddenly buzzed with action. A convoy of cars could be seen ferrying excited patrons to the Chunda Polo Club. As the players enthusiastically took on their opponents for the Bedla Cup, constant cheers of “Go Veeram” and “Go Himmat” echoed in the stands. Clearly, the overflowing gusto of spectators could not be contained under their masked mouths amidst the pandemic. Now this may seem like a regular scene from the polo circuits of Jaipur or Jodhpur, but it was a welcome change for Udaipur. The fervour for polo, which had mellowed in Mewar over the years, is once again taking confident strides with the efforts of the city’s next generation of polo exponents.
Veeramdev Singh Krishnawat of Thana, one of Mewar’s finest polo players and the man behind the establishment of the Chunda Polo Club, is a first-generation player who was inducted into the world of equestrian sports while studying at Mayo College, Ajmer. Veeram recalls how he had formed an instant kinship with his first horse, Ganga, during childhood. Such was their bond that when Veeram got married a few years ago, he decided to mount the same mare for his Toran ceremony.
“My passion for polo was primarily ignited by my love for the animal.” Veeram’s words remind me of the time when I was working on a documentary with celebrated filmmaker Mr. Muzaffar Ali in 2002 and we shot a riding sequence with him on his school grounds. Veeram had been a novice then, but watching him gallop smoothly into the dust was like poetry in motion. The soul-connect between the boy and the beast was not just cinematically beautiful, it was awe-inspiring.
When questioned about what motivated him to establish the Chunda Polo Club, he says that it was solely a love for the game. Veeram and his school friend Rao Himmat Singh Bedla had nurtured a childhood dream of bringing glory to Mewar in the field of polo. Destiny made its play by creating favourable circumstances in 2018 and they got the ball rolling, churning out a factory of polo players from Udaipur. “There are almost fifteen polo players associated with the club at present and we have an ever-increasing number of riders which makes me hopeful for the future,”says an optimistic Veeram.
Some of the regular poloists at the club include Maharaj Raghavraj Singh of Shivrati, Rao Himmat Singh and Kunwar Karanvijay Singh of Bedla, Kunwar Veeramdev Singh and Yaduraj Singh of Thana, Kunwar Tejveer Singh and Rajveer Singh of Jhadol, Bhanwar Abbheraj Singh of Baansi, Kunwar Bhupendra Singh of Agria, Kunwar Aryaveer Singh of Piplaj, Kunwar Akshay Singh Kushwaha, Kunwar Deovrat Singh and Manuvardhan Singh of Sadas, and the only woman player in the Mewar brigade, Kumari Vijayashree Shaktawat of Jagat.
Vijayashree had learnt how to ride in her childhood with her father, but she entered the realm of polo two years ago with the Chunda Polo Club. Besides playing regularly on her home grounds, she recently had the opportunity to play for the US Polo Assn. in February 2021 in Jaipur. Just like her, Abbheraj Singh Baansi also learnt how to ride as a schoolboy. He nurtured his talent for show jumping and dressage for a few years but put a halt to it during board exams. Almost a decade later, he resumed his affair with the sport at the Chunda Polo Club.
“Udaipur is witnessing a meteoric rise of new polo players under the aegis of this civilian platform,” says Maharaj Raghavraj Singh Shivarti who has risen to the rank of Major since joining the Territorial Army in 2014. “We indulge in practice chukkers all year round and host a Polo Season in December where players from other cities are invited for exhibition matches,” he says. Having participated in the Polo World Cup and President’s Cup, he has also played for a few fundraisers with Prince William, forging a deep friendship with him. In fact, Major Raghavraj and his wife were the only people from India to be invited to the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011. On being asked if he ever felt intimidated while playing with such a revered member of the royalty, he answers with his signature wit: “Horses are the greatest equalisers in the world!”
Where equines are regarded as the greatest equalizers, it does not come as a surprise when Tejveer Singh Jhadol mentions how the Chunda Polo Club is such a close-knit fraternity: “Even though all the players own and raise their horses individually, most of us keep our animals in the areas around the Club as it harbours a sense of camaraderie and coexistence among us.” Tejveer has played for teams like Sahara Warriors and Jindals, represented India in horseback archery in Poland, and also worked as a horse wrangler for Bollywood films like Mirziya and Padmaavat. So, what advice would he give to aspiring players? “Start young”.
Rao Himmat Singh Bedla certainly started young at the tender age of four. “I used to trot to school on my horse Naughty Boy in my childhood. Later, when Shriji Arvind Singh Ji Mewar observed my passion for horses, he encouraged me to ride at Shikaarbadi where he bred polo ponies in those days.”Himmat is known for having democratized polo by founding the International Polo Group (IPG) which increases awareness and patronises the game.
Himmat has been generously sponsoring the Bedla Cup in the memory of his parents for the last three winters at the Chunda Polo Club. He has also facilitated the visits of some international polo stalwarts to encourage the upcoming players of Mewar. He informs how polo was popular in Udaipur in the era of Maharana Fateh Singh Ji. “The area behind Field Club in the heart of the city is where polo was played in the yesteryears. It was later developed into a residential area and came to be known as Polo Ground Colony. After Fateh Singh Ji, Shriji Arvind Singh Ji emerged as the pioneering civilian patron of polo in the 1990s.”
Shriji’s son-in-law, Thakur Lokendra Singh of Ghanerao, is a former captain of the Indian polo team and is one of the first professional players in India. Fondly known as Loku Dada by others, he generously shares his polo wisdom with the Mewar contingent whenever he is in town. In fact, generosity is an attribute shared by all these players as the Club often hosts charity fundraisers in association with organisations like the Round Table India, the proceeds of which go towards building better classroom infrastructure in rural areas.
I have known most of these boys since childhood. I remember them riding during our school days. I also remember the years in between when they got entangled in the vagaries of life and their horses got left behind. Yet, as I glance upon their contented smiles while they play practice chukkers with child-like exuberance, I can say with certainty that with the renewed interest of these young nobles, polo is surely expanding its roots into the landscape of Mewar.