Arjuna Award - Col Maharaj Prem Singh

Col Maharaj Prem Singh

Arjuna award 1961

Colonel Maharaj Prem Singh, to give him his full rank and name, was born at Jodhpur in Rajasthan on 15 November 1915 and studied at the local Chopsani School. Like the members of the princely families of those days, Prem Singh took to sports quite easily with polo as the No. 1 choice and shooting, squash, tennis and cycle polo for variety. His proficiency in golf was remarkable with an Asian Championship title in Calcutta in 1953 being a landmark in his career.

Polo was a family affair so to speak, with father Maharaj Kishen Singh being a renowned name in the game. Prem Singh remembers the small polo stick given by his father during his childhood. The children then used to play foot polo, learning all the strokes before even learning to ride. The next step was cycle polo which contributed considerably as he graduated to horse polo. Prem Singh’s first pony was gifted to him by the late Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singhji.

Prem Singh joined the Jodhpur Lancers in 1937 where the coach was his father Kishen Singh. Soon he was drawn into the competitive world of polo, winning the first tournament, the Western India Low Handicap Championship, in Bombay. After that it was regular tournament time for the young man and he made the most of the opportunity of playing with some of the great established stars of those years. There was Rao Raja Hanut Singh, the greatest of them all who played at number 3 position, and two very good forwards, Thakur Prithi Singhji of Baria at number1 and Maharaj Jabar Singh at number 2 position. Prem Singh played in the back position. He was part of the team, which beat Kachawa Horse by ten goals to one. His other good win was the “Kotah Cup” at Ajmer in 1938.

He improved with each competition and in 1939 his handicap jumped to three. Tournament polo came to a halt with World War II that also saw the conversion of all Horse Cavalries into mechanised units. Prem Singh left the army in 1948, moved to Bombay with his polo ponies and revived the game there. He loved to play at Bombay’s two polo grounds, located at Mahalaxmi Race Course.

Then came his foreign trips with Egypt figuring first on the list in 1951. England that had very little polo activities during the War years had recovered through the efforts of the Royal Family, Lord Cowdrey and some industrial houses.

Prem Singh recalls the year 1953 as his most successful year as a captain of Woolmers Park Team. The team won the Rome Championship and though there was minor setback against the Argentinian team in the Coronation Cup, the team won the other major tournaments at Cowdrey Park. The next stop was France where the team won eight Cups in a row, not losing a single game. It was during his sojourn in the Dominican Republic that Prem Singh had the opportunity of playing with some of the world famous players – Cecil Smith, Michael Phipps and Stuart Iglehart.

Later Prem Singh was in action for the Indian team in the U.K. and contributed to the team doing extremely well in most of the tournaments, including the Queen’s Cup. He played in other parts of the world too, occasionally adding his expert touch as a coach and an administrator. He has played a major role in reviving the game at Madras and Hyderabad. A popular figure on all the polo grounds of the world, Colonel Maharaj Prem Singh was the first polo player to received the Arjuna Award in 1961.