The Maharaja of polo
CLICKPOLO ASIA talks about Maharaja Kumar Padmanabh Singh's story, an ambassador for our sport around the globe; “My family has been playing polo for generations,” he said.
“Polo, of course, has a very long history in India. We are one of the countries that can say that we founded polo and shared it with the world”
Polo has a very long history. It is the oldest team sport on the planet. And, throughout its long history, it has always been called "The sport of Kings."
In this case, we aren't talking about a King, but a Maharaja. He is a polo player, and a very important person in India. In 2018, Forbes included him in the top 30 most powerful Asian men under the age of 30, and only a year prior, due to his exotic and elegant figure, he was chosen to be the gentleman chosen by Reese Witherspoon's daughter, Ava Phillippe, during Paris' Debuting Ball. "Those are unique experiences that I love to accept. Currently, that is who I am when I'm not in Jaipur. I will only be at this age once, I am still studying, but there are many experiences that I want to have before taking on more responsibilities."
The one talking is, indeed, Maharaja Kumar Padmanabh Singh. At the young age of 23, he is one of the most important people in his country. However, what we at CLICKPOLO ASIA are interested in, is that he also has a history of love for the sport of polo, and horses in general.
His story is quite particular. When he was 4 years old, his grandfather Sawai Bhawani Singh adopted him as an heir. Bhawani, a veteran from the army, was also the last Maharaja with Royal privileges. During the early 70s, Indira Gandhi rewrote the Indian Constitution and abolished the last privileges of the Indian Princes, including an Annual Stipend and being excluded from taxes. Bhawani and his family had to adapt to a life where they were no longer rules. "The title of Maharaja actually means 'first among equals,' but it is similar to what you would call a Prince or a King," said Pacho. He thinks that this title -an honorific and ceremonial title- is "an opportunity to draw attention to Jaipur and achieve the changes I want for the city." Those changes aren't simply intended to attract more tourists and investors, but also fighting to close the social gaps and for women's rights.
When it comes to the history of polo in his country, Padmanabh Singh said the following during an interview with www.thailandtatler.com: "Polo, of course, has a very long history in India. We are one of the countries that can say that we founded polo and shared it with the world. Of course there are other countries like Persia that could say the same, but we do have a lot of historical documentation and paintings from thousands of years ago describing the sport. There are paintings depicting the winners of the war playing polo with the head of their enemy. When the British arrived, they made rules and formalised the sport. So, we have a lot of history revolving around the sport, especially in a city like Jaipur. Some of the best players came from Jaipur. We have also had the most incredible polo matches hosted in Jaipur with the Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and many others. But what makes polo in Jaipur so special is that the people are very much involved in it. People come to the polo grounds every evening during polo season. The numbers go up in the thousands. They all have family history with the sport. People might be telling stories of how someone's grandfather scored in a game generations ago and so on. That's what makes it so fun.”
-When did your fascination with polo start?
"In a city like Jaipur, it’s hard to stay away from the sport. To be honest, as a kid, I was never really attracted to it that much, even though I had to attend the polo matches we support. It was around the time when my grandfather passed away that I was sent to a boarding school. It was his life-long dream to see me play polo. After we lost him, one day at boarding school, I went to the horses. I started with showjumping. Then, my father took me to Argentina where I met my grandfather’s friends. They told me various stories, so I bit my tongue and decided to have a go at polo. It was like a bug that bites you and you get addicted. I started spending a lot of time on the saddle, working with horses, travelling to other countries to train myself and playing with better players. At one point, I would be travelling to three cities in two days to play two or three games."
-How many polo horses does your family own?
"In polo you need a lot of horses. Between my father and I, we have 20 to 25 horses. My father is not playing much nowadays, so I have to look after all of the horses, which is quite a lot of work because ideally, you have to ride all of them every day. Riding 25 horses every day is not an easy task, but you cannot complain about having too many horses. Some people have a hundred horses and still complain about not having enough. It’s really about having quality horses though and not the quantity. Every horse needs attention, and having too many horses, you tend to stop giving each of them the attention they deserve."
-Do you have a favourite horse?
"Of course, there are always those horses with the ability to win you matches. For me, there is this dark Bay mare called Y-7. That was her name from when she was bred, and I never changed it. She is now 13 to 14 years' old, but every single time I am under pressure or when I have to score a crucial goal, she never fails me.
I recently imported a few more from England. There’s one called Music. She is spectacularly beautiful. I injured her ligaments three months ago, so she’s been stating in the stables —something very frustrating— but the veterinarian told me that she is finally ready to go again."
-What got you interested in playing polo? What do you aim to achieve?
"My family has been playing polo for generations. My father, Narendra Singh, also plays. So, that was always a contributing factor for me. There’s great goodwill that can be generated through the game. It can be used as an opportunity to raise funds for several charities. I’ve seen how Prince William and Harry use it as a backdrop for their various charitable causes as well.
My mother’s charity, The Princess Diya Kumari Foundation, works for the betterment of women and underprivileged children. We hosted a match with the French team in Jaipur recently, where Rohit Bal held a fashion show as well. This helped us raise funds for children with special needs.
Apart from that, polo is the one thing that I have achieved on my own. I was the youngest polo player from India in the 2017 Polo World Cup, and that was a proud moment for me."
-What place do you feel you have in polo?
“I represent the history of thousands of years of polo, and it is my duty to act as its ambassador; not just in India, but abroad as well.”