Archery is the most popular sport played in Bhutan. Indeed, it is the country’s national sport. It is considered a cult evolved in time and this game has changed as it was embellished by modernity and globalization.
Nothing is more incongruous than team members yelling across the archery field, trying to help their team mates by literally standing near the target while arrows are shot at it from the other extremity of the field, but in Bhutan it is a common practice. The conducts involved in an archery game or tournament are truly unique. There is always excitement in witnessing an archery game. People either participate as archers or watch cheerfully while others play, in a lively atmosphere.
People dwelling in the villages perceive archery as their favorite pastime, and in times of festivals such as Losar, and particularly during ‘Chodas’ (a particular event whereby a village directly challenges another one), the events are even more colourful and exciting. Adult men in villages set off for the competition early in the morning, hanging their bow and arrow cases upon their shoulder. The archery field can stretch as long as 130m from one end to the other. Relatively small and beautifully painted wooden targets (Ba) are placed at each end of the field.
The other members of the family also play a vital role in the event. The children bring tea and Suja (butter tea), and locally prepared alcohol (Ara and Singchang) as refreshment for the archers while archer’s wives prepare their best dishes and drinks. Apart from these, the archer’s wives cheer their husbands by singing symbolic songs. They also tease the opponent teams with disturbing gesticulation and often singing songs with words of affront.
As the competition draws to an end, usually in the late evenings, all the archers gather with their wives and the audience to dance. They dance in a circle. One leads in singing while others follow him/her, changing the pace of the dance with the tone of their singing.
Before having competitions, teams often seek advice from an astrologer (Tsip) in order to draw luck in their favor or to hinder the opponent’s capabilities. The archers even spend a night outside their home, for example in barns, the night before the competition. The astrologer, through his astrological finding, instructs the archers to enter the archery field in-order according to their individual horoscopes. Such beliefs are very prevalent among the people regardless of the influx of modernity. In addition to this, archery in Bhutan is a concept linked to friendship and cooperation. This is evident from the pack lunches that the people bring along with them and the gestures that they share while on the field. Archery is a mean of socialization in Bhutan, with diverse people brought together to enjoy the same game.
This sport has been embellished by the modern technology. Although all other trends have remained the same, the bows used in the competitions have changed. The use of bows made of bamboo and arrows from reeds has been slowly waning. Today archers in Bhutan prefer to use compound bows. These imported compounds bows are either American or European. Many modern trends such as individual and corporate sponsorship, cash and material prices have become a vital part of any archery competition or tournament.
The archery field right next to the Changlingmithang stadium in Thimphu serves as one of the country’s most famous archery fields. And the most prominent archery tournament is the Yangphel tournament.
Jigme Namgyel, research intern