The tradition of sports dates back to the ancient history of Manipur - a history of small kingdoms which were in keen competition with one another. Wars among themselves and with Ava (Myanmar) resulted in a martial tradition which in turn gave due impetus to the development of indiginous games.
Thang Ta & Sarit Sarak (Manipuri Martial Arts)
These are the Manipuri Martial Arts, the traditions of which had been passed down over the centuries. It is a very energetic and skillful art and is a way to hone one's battlecraft during the peace time in the olden days when every Manipuri was a warrior who is required to serve his country at the time of war. Long and precise practices is required and only the brave and athletic could excel. The art as seen today observe elaborate rituals and rules which are strictly observed by the participants. Besides, the above, there are other games like Lamjel(foot race), Mangjong (Broad jump) etc.
Khong Kangjei (Manipuri Hockey)
Like polo, Khong Kangjei, is also a very popular game for the Manipuris. The game is played with seven players on either side and each player is equipped with a bamboo stick about 4ft. in length made in the form of modern hockey stick. The game is started with a throw of the ball made of bamboo root in the field of 200 x 80 yards in area. A player may carry the ball in any manner to the goal, he may even kick it but he has to score the goal only by hitting the ball with his stick.
Yubi Lakpi (Manipuri Style Rugby)
There is no goal post and a goal is scored when the ball crosses the goal line fully. A player often encounters with an opponent in his attempt at carrying or hitting the ball towards the goal. The encounter may develop into a trial of strength which is indigenously known as Mukna. the game requires much physical stamina, speed and agility. In the olden days players excelling in the game received royal favours and prizes.
"Yubi" is the Manipuri for coconut and "Lakpi" for snatching. Played on the beautiful green turf of the palace ground, or at the Bijoy Govinda Temple Ground. Each side has 7 players in a field that is about 45 x 18 metres in area. One end of the field has a rectangular box 4.5 x 3 mtrs. One side of which forms the central portion of the goal line. To score a goal a player has to approach the goal from the front with his oiled coconut and pass the goal line. The coconut serves the purpose of a ball and is offered to the king or the judges who sit just beyond the goal line. However, in ancient times the teams were not equally matched but the players, with the coconut had to tackle all the rest of the players.
Hiyang Tanaba (Boat Race)
It is generally held in the month of November at Thangapat. The boats called Hiyang Hiren is regarded to be invested with spiritual powers and the game is associated with religious rites. The Meiteis believe that worship of the Hiyang Hiren will negate evil omens. The rowers don traditional dresses and head gears. The game is also conducted during the times of natural calamity.
Mukna (Manipuri Wrestling)
The game is the Manipuri style of wrestling played between two male rivals for trial of strength by sheer physical strength and skill. Athletes of the same or approximately the same physical built weight and, age are made rivals. The game is an absolute must for the closing ceremonies of the Lai Haraoba festival. Mukna is a highly popular and prestigious game. In the olden days the game enjoyed royal patronage.
Sagol Kangjei (POLO)
The Manipuri Sagol Kangjei has been adopted by the International Community as Polo and is now being played worldwide. The 'PUYAS' trace it to the mythological age when the game was played by gods. The game is played with 7 players on each side mounted on ponies which are often not more than 4/5 feet in height. Each player is outfitted with a polo stick made of cane having a narrow angled wooden head fixed at the striking end. The ball, 14 inches in circumference is made of bamboo root. The mounted players hit the ball into the goal. Extremely vigorous and exhilarating the game is now played in two styles - the PANA or original Manipuri style and the International style i.e. Polo. It is exhilarating to see the Manipuri players in their sixties and even seventies riding ponies at full gallop and playing Sagol Kangjei with gusto. The ponies are also decorated fully with various guards protecting the eyes, forehead, flanks etc.
The British learned the game of Sagol Kangjei in the 19th Century from Manipur after refinement it was transplanted to the countries as Polo.
Played on the mud floor of a big out-house, fixed targets hit with "Kang" which is a flat and oblong instrument made of either ivory or lac. Normally each team has 7 male partners. the game is also played as a mixed-doubles contest.
Played strictly during the period between 'Cheiraoba' (Manipuri New Year's day) and the Rath Yatra festival. Manipuri religiously adhere to its time-frame as popular belief holds that if the game is played beyond its given limit, evil spirits invade the mind of players and spectators.