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Delve into The Traditional Sport of Archery in Bhutan

The glory of Bhutan is not hidden from anyone. The country, as beautiful as heaven itself, is known for its vivid culture, vibrant festivals and its richness in sports. It is true that no matter how developed or beautiful a country is, it never becomes complete until its citizens have an unleashed spirit for sports. And it is the royal sport of archery or "Da" (as it is called in Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan) which completes Bhutan.

Archery in Bhutan
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Seeing the level of enthusiasm that Bhutanese have for this sport, it would not be wrong to say that archery is the crown jewel of the country. And it must be the aura of Bhutan that even the tourists can't resist themselves to enjoy one or more matches of archery. The joy of seeing an arrow leaving the bow and hitting the target, some 100 metres away, is unparalleled. Cheerleading and dancing, along with the game, create a sense of sportsmanship that can rarely be found someplace else. So many local people come out of their houses to watch the matches, which gives a great chance to interact with people and learn about their culture.

History of Archery in Bhutan

Declared as the national sport in 1971, the inclination of people towards archery in Bhutan started in the 1920s, under the leadership of Jigme Wangchuk, the second king of the country. However, archery has been practised in the country since long before then. It was used as a major weapon against Tibetan and British invaders in the 1864 battle. Not just this, bows and arrows can be seen even in the historical paintings and wall carvings, demonstrating the importance of this sport in the lives and history of Bhutan.

In the times of wars and invasions, this was the major source of defence for the army. In fact, when Tibetan King Langdarma started taking Buddhism as a joke in the 10th century, he was very smartly assassinated by an arrow, targeted straight from a bow, in the middle of a Black Hat Dance by Lhalung Pelgi Dorji, a Buddhist monk. So, it would be safe to say that the roots of archery are grounded deep beneath the grounds of Bhutan.

Rules and Tournaments

In a traditional game of archery, the target is placed 100-145 metres away from the shooter. The fact that the distance between the target and shooter is this long makes the sport even more interesting and breathtaking. The bows and arrows are made up of bamboo and are sharpened through the edges by skilled craftsmen. It is quite interesting to know that the local people appreciate the tournaments played in their native grounds much more than that in the Olympics. They believe that the range of the target is much shorter in the latter and the modern equipment used can't match the richness of traditional equipment.

Archery in Bhutan
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There are usually two teams in every match, each of them having their own supporters, who cheer for them and motivate them throughout the tournament. Participants usually wear a bright red or orange-coloured uniform during competitions. In traditional matches, high-length socks and a robe are also carried. When an arrow hits the board just close to the central mark, one point is given to him. For two points, the arrow has to hit the central circle and when the arrow hits the bird's eye, 3 points are marked. With every point being earned, the cheerleaders dance and sing the traditional songs and encourage the participants. To lower down the confidence of the opponent team, constants hootings and booing are also the part of the match. And being a part of this crazy enthusiasm is an experience in itself!

Archery Board, Archery in Bhutan
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No major festival or celebrations are complete without a match of archery in which the entire village comes together to enjoy a marvellous match. Every village has a field reserved for archery and there is no region in the country which is untouched by its might. Changlimithang Stadium is a major archery stadium in the country. The king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck also keeps a keen interest in the sport.

Representation in Olympics

The first time that Bhutan participated in the Olympics was the in 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Till the year 2008, Bhutan marked its entry only in archery. In 2012, there was only a team of women archers and no man participated in the competition. It is a positive sign of women's increased participation in mainstream competitions. Since it is the country's national sport, it is a bit startling that not a single medal has been won by Bhutan till date. This is because methods used in Olympics are much different than that used in their own country grounds. But keeping their heads high and determination focused, the countrymen participate every time and play with the true spirit of sportsmanship. For them, it is much more than just winning the game. 

Archery in Bhutan
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Role of Women in Archery

Although, the archery in Bhutan is dominated my men, women leave no stone unturned to prove an asset to the country and sport. In present times, the participation of women has increased marginally in the game. But many still consider archery as the game for males, and not females. Even if the ladies do not participate in the tournaments as archers, they play an active role in cheering up their family members, competing in the match. They bring food for them and dance in joy everytime their team hits the target. This is a great source of motivation for the players, who are being expected to win the match. They mock the opponent team players by passing verbal disheartening comments and sing traditional songs to cheer up their own team. So, their role in archery is very important as they make for the supporting people, whose presence doubles the thrill of the tournament.

Cheerleading by Women, Archery in Bhutan
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Archery in Bhutan continues to see evolution through the efforts of people to master the art with their skills and techniques. The game thrives and cheers up people even though there are a few challenges faced in it. "What is the magic that they can hit the target at such a far distance" , you may ask yourself. The answer lies in Bhutan. All you have to do is reach out!

This post was published by Tina Garg


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