Centuries-old polo

A centuries-old Chogan (polo) filed with stone gates, one of which bearing a dedicatory inscription, has recently been found near a village in Iran’s western Lorestan province, provincial tourism chief has announced.

“Significant architectural and historical elements from the first Chogan field in Lorestan, which is the third in the country, have been obtained during a round of archeological and anthropological studies recently conducted in Aligudarz,” CHTN quoted Seyyed Amin Qasemi as saying on Wednesday.

The horse-riding game, traditionally played in royal courts and urban fields and accompanied by music and storytelling, won the UNESCO world heritage status in December 2017. In Chogan, two-rider teams compete and the aim is to pass a ball through the opposing team’s goal post using a wooden stick. The bearers of the game include Choganbazan (the athletes), storytellers (Naqqals, Morsheds, etc.) and musicians, according to a dossier submitted to the UNESCO on March 31, 2016.

“The unearthed architectural elements include four standing stone mills, which are related to the gates of the Chogan field, one of which has inscriptions in Persian,” Qasemi added.

“This Chogan field is located in the village of Khalil Abad on the slopes of Qali Kooh and Oshtrankooh, which are aimed to be added to the tourist spots of the province in the future due to their proximity to Ab-e Sefid and Shoul-Abad waterfalls.”

Talking to the CHTN, archaeologist Ata Hassanpour said “The inscription discovered on the stone masonry body of the gates of the Chogan field, …. And it includes four shutters of Persian poetry, which dates back to 1116 AH [1704 -1705 CE] and coincides with the middle of the Safavid era.”

“The inscription shows that Yahya ibn Yusuf, the grandson of Khalil Khan Sarlak, one of the famous Bakhtiari rulers in the Safavid period, founded a mansion in this area overlooking the polo field and the well-carved stones left over from the mansion, which are now scattered around, testify the glory of this building [in its hey-day].”

Elsewhere in his remarks, Hassanpour, pointed out that there is a similar example of these stone mills in Isfahan’s Naghsh-e Jahan Square, (the UNESCO-registered Imam Sq.), which is the oldest Chogan field in the world, adding “After counterpart in Isfahan and Qazvin, this is the third polo field in Iran.”

“We will reopen Safavid studies in Lorestan and Iran, and we will soon provide additional and detailed information in this regard to those who are interested,” the archaeologist concluded.

Chogan is a sporting team game with horses and a version of the modern polo game. From time immemorial it was considered an aristocratic game and held in a separate field, on specially trained horses. Nowadays, Chogan is played in Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan.

Polo was invented and first played in Iran (or ancient Persia) thousands of years ago.  The original name of polo is “Chogan” and in Iran the game is still referred to as “Chogan”.

From its Iranian origins in Persia it spread to Constantinople, and eastward through Bactria and Afghanistan to Tibet, China, and Japan, and from Tibet to India, where it flourished throughout the Mughal (Mogul) dynasty.  The word “polo” comes from the Tibetan word for the willow root from which polo balls were made of, which is “Pulu”.

Polo is said to be the world’s first team sport, the world’s first ball game, and today is recognized as the world’s fastest team sport and ball game.  The first recorded game took place in 600 BC, in Ancient Persia. Throughout history, the game has been popular among generals, warriors, princes, and kings as a means of training cavalry for warfare.