Arjuna Award - Rao Raja Hanut Singh

Rao Raja Hanut Singh

Padma Bhushan 1958
Arjuna Award 1964

Polo in India has thrown up a profusion of personalities but if one were to ask to name the greatest of them all, there would be a rare unanimity in the answer-Rao Raja Hanut Singh. In the pre-War days Indian polo was synonymous with Hanut; the two were inseparable.

It was not just a question of his handicap of nine goals that he retained for 26 years, Hanut Singh invested the game with a degree of class and polish which evoked admiration. And this whether he was playing in India or abroad. He was always the master craftsman. Hanut’s beast years were lost because of the War but by that time he had already attained a reputation of a world class player and even played for England, a rare distinction and the only case of an Indian being asked to do so. He is also the only polo player who was awarded a Gold Medal at the Empire Olympic Games in 1958.

Born at Jodhpur in Rajasthan on 20 Mar 1900, with schooling from prestigious Mayo College, Ajmer, Hanut Singh spent his career soldiering. He fought through the Allenby Campaign in Palestine and was part of the famous Haifa Cavalry Charge by the Jodhpur Lancers. But his lessons in polo could not be neglected even during the War years. Maharaja Sir Pratap Singh himself took keen interest and had turned the Jodhpur team into one of the match at Delhi, a defeat that angered Sir Pratap and he swore revenge. The chance came during the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1921-22 when the teams met in the Final of a specially organized tournament for the occasion. Jodhpur comprised young officers and they played superbly to avenge the earlier defeat. Hanut’s handicap went up from six to nine after that match. Hanut retained that Handicap till 1947.

Later Hanut played in the Hurlingham Championship of England, now called the “Cowdrey Gold Cup” and his team claimed the title. He played and won the same tournament for Jaipur in 1933. No Indian team other than Jodhpur and Jaipur have ever won that Cup. Then came his stint for England against the USA in the Westchester Cup series. He was a member of the victorious played for Bhopal against England. He represented India against Australia in 1947, Argentina in 1949 and Pakistan in 1960.

After the War Hanut involved himself totally with Indian teams and was one of the star players of the combination which won the World Cup at Deauville (France) in 1957. He continued to play in tournaments in England and India till the age of 68, his handicap still as high as four goals, a rare consistency.

Amoung the early recipients of the Arjuna Award, Rao Raja Hanut Singh was honoured with the Padma Bhushan in 1958, the only polo player so far to receive the nation’s third highest civilian award. In between his polo playing and other duties, Hanut Singh was also a Minister in the first popular Ministry of the Jodhpur State and later in the expanded Ministry of the Rajasthan State. Hanut Singh suffered a stroke in 1973 and died on 12 Oct 1982.