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Archery, Bhutan’s national game

Like any other country in the world has her own national game, Bhutan’s is archery. Seeing people playing archery around different places and hearing clamors is a usual citing in the country. Archery also serves as one of the tourist attractions.

In dzongkha (Bhutan’s national language) is called Dhaa meaning arrow. Archery was adopted as national game when Bhutan joined United Nations in 1971. May be the game was played in the country way before that but it gained its popularity thereafter. Bhutan was also known for archery games to the other parts of the world and it still is.

But the equipment used for playing archery game have changed from the traditional ones to the modern with change of time. With an advent of compound bows and metal arrows have replaced traditional bamboo bows and arrows. The way they are played is also slightly different while the range between the two targets remains same at 140 meters.

In the past, bows were designed and made from seasoned special thick bamboo while arrow was made from small and thin straightened bamboos. These arrows were designed with the feathers of pheasants with sharp metal cone fixed to the end. Today, the arrows are made of special light metal and the bows are powered with pulley system. These compound bows have replaced most of the traditional bamboo bows and arrows as the financial condition of the people has increased. There are also some elderly people and some organisations who fear that the diminishing traditional archery equipment.

Lately, ministry of agriculture and forest with Bhutan Olympic Committee (BoC) has banned use of pheasant feather on arrows and this in the interest of preserving these birds. There were some instances that people went around in the forests to hunt down these birds to make arrows. People are asked to use plastic feathers instead today.

With people switching to use all these powerful compound bows in the country, the national game has also become a dangerous games. There were many incidences where people who were watching the game or walking around were hit with these dangerous metal arrows. Such incidences happened especially when they strayed arrows out of mishandling and sometimes due to lack of safety measures at the archery range. The compound bows have penetrated even in to the villages.

In the capital city, Thimphu alone conducts four archery tournaments in a year of which two are played on traditional equipment and the other two on compound bows. Although many people prefer to play on compound bows, two tournaments on traditional equipment is mandated with an intention to preserve traditional equipment. Comparing the number of teams taking part in the tournaments with compound bows, traditional equipment users are significantly low. Even the value of the prizes given for the traditional archery tournaments is cheaper than the one given for the compound bow tournaments.

The tournaments are played between departments, villages, organisations and institutes. The game also draws significant number of spectators for every tournament, as there are many archery enthusiasts.

Archery is played only by men. Women gather around as spectators and dancers. Each player in different teams (usually two) get to shoot a pair of arrows in one direction and targets stand on both the sides of the archery range.

Traditionally in the villages, when men went for archery tournaments, women, usually wives have to follow carrying lunch and liquor. As the tournament concludes, they celebrated the day with dances and drinks. This practice has some how diminished hitherto.

In the villages, archery game was played to celebrate very important occasions and holidays like new-year and a few others. People also feasted themselves on especial meals with variety of meats, which were quite rare in their daily meals. Today, archery is played using different equipment, everywhere and almost everyday and the charm of the game has been lost among the people.

Some of the elders, who used to be sharp shooters on bamboo bows in the past say that the archery is a traditional game and it is played with some certain customs. These include the way they celebrate hits and the starting and ending ceremonies as well. The game is played slightly different today.

There are number of shops in the country that sell compound bows and arrows while traditional bows and arrows are sold in handicraft shops.