As an adolescent, he would accompany his late grandfather Maharaja Sawai Bhawani Singhji of Jaipur to the polo grounds every season. “My grandfather used to host the Jaipur season at Rambagh Polo Club in January and September,” says 18-year old His Highness Maharaja Sawai Padmanabh Singh of Jaipur, “So every day of those months, I would go watch Yuvraj Shivraj Singh of Jodhpur, Yuvraj Vikramaditya Singh of Kashmir, and international players on the field.” It was also the time he was introduced to the player he idolizes the most, Arjuna Award-winner and captain of the Indian polo team, Samir Suhag. Surrounded by polo, it was natural he would take up the sport, but the young maharaja has one regret. “My grandfather was always keen I start riding, and I regret the fact that I didn’t begin while he was alive.” It was only the week after he passed away in April 2011, that Padmanabh, upon returning to boarding school in India, Mayo College (he transferred to Millfield in the UK later), took up dressage and eventually picked up the mallet, competing in his first polo game in England at the age of 15.
From the lot of international players, Padmanabh Singh admires Adolfo Cambiaso, a 10-goal handicap player whose farm in Argentina he has visited with his father Maharaj Narendra Singh, to watch the Argentine Open, often described as the ‘mecca of polo’. “He’s the best polo player in the whole world,” says Padmanabh, “I’ve played with his son who’s only 10 and is already doing well.” The maharaja is particularly impressed with the fact that Adolfo has cloned ponies for the game. “He’s cloned Cuartatera, probably one of the best horses for polo, eight times, one for each chukker,” says Padmanabh. The young royal travelled to this polo-mad country as a member of the Federation of International Polo, of which his father is a member, and his grandfather was founding member.
Jaipur and polo have always gone hand in hand, with the golden age of polo being during the time of Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II, a 10-goal player who took the Jaipur team to victory in the 1957 polo World Cup in Deauville, France. As a successor to this formidable legacy, young Padmanabh would love to see the grand era of polo return to his city. “If you say the name of Jaipur, people associate it with polo,” he says. “It’s such a great legacy that my ancestors have left. I’ve seen pictures and videos of that time, and would like to have the World Cup playoffs in Jaipur either next year or the following, and get good sponsors. I want to make Jaipur a destination for the sport again. I have this huge platform, with the help of my family.”
Playing on the English circuit for the last two years, Padmanabh is notching up the requisite experience on the field, galloping ponies with the likes of Princes William and Harry. “I own eight horses in England, and compete professionally for six months in the summer,” says Padmanabh, who is a member of the Guards Polo Club in Windsor. “I’ve played with both Prince William and Harry – Prince Charles is also my godfather.” He recounts a match with the brothers at the Jerudong Park Trophy sponsored by the Sultan of Brunei. “They are more promoters of the sport than players; they’re also gentlemen on the field – we were playing and someone fell. Prince William immediately stopped and got off his horse to assist the guy.”
And now, the young maharaja, who’s just celebrated his 18th birthday this July in a grand durbar attended by Indian royals as well as former jagirdars (landowners) of Jaipur, is off to Royal Holloway, University of London to study Politics. He looks back at the ceremony, in which he wore an achkan especially made by Raghavendra Rathore. “It was amazing to see all the jagirdars I knew there,” says Padmanabh. “Hats off to my grandmother; she single-handedly ran the show.” He remains brand ambassador for clothing brand La Martina, attending promos in places like Jermyn Street in London. And he’s just returned from a tour of Santa Barbara and Long Island this summer where he took with him Jaipur players Fateh Singh and Ransher Singh, and Abhimanyu Pathak from Delhi. “We were fortunate to win three out of four games played, one of them against the US polo team,” he says.
“I’m still young but I have my responsibilities,” says Padmanabh, “People see me as an ambassador of royalty from India, and there’s a lot of respect given. People in England preserve the past; I would love to do that. It’s not something to hide from.” Is politics on the cards? “Maybe. I feel for the people of Jaipur,” he says. “And I want to see Jaipur on the world map as one of the greatest cities.” Spoken like a true king.