Once famous – Ap Sha Bodi, the legendary archer

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The moment he drew his bowstring pointed his arrow toward the target and took aim, it made the opponent archers jittery.They knew he was a sure shot.

Acquiring skills unparalleled by many of his contemporaries, 72 year old Sha Bodhi, from Sha Phayul in Wangduephodrang, was always a name reckoned with on the archery range .He was a famous sharp shooter who hit the target with much calculated accuracy.

“I used to hit about 30 to 35 kareys (hits) and seven to eight dobjays (double hits) in every match I played on Pa shing (traditional bamboo bows),” said Sha Bodhi with a little folksy, aw-shucks manner. “I used to hit the finishing karey (choenda) too. That used to be more gratifying.”

Sha Bodhi started shooting when he was 12. Unlike most young people of his time, instead of working in the fields, he would escape the daily household chores just to practice archery. “I used to practice alone near my house at a khuru (traditional wooden dart) range right after breakfast and I would go on till sundown.”

But it was only when he was 15 that he first stepped into the real professional archery range. Sha Bodhi would sneak out of his house in the evenings when all the tired out villagers returned home after the days arduous work in the fields. This practice went on for weeks and soon his arrows started hitting the target more often.

“That’s when I realized that what started off as a hobby turned into passion,” said Sha Bodhi.

Weeks later, Sha Bodhi got his first opportunity to play as the youngest archer among the veterans in a tournament which the villagers organized every losar (new year). “I remember vividly how the spectators were taken aback as I began playing better than most experienced players. To some extent I even started out shooting them.”

He received much ovation from his village folks for his talent and soon the villagers started glorifying their village champion.

It was during the third King’s time when developmental activities had just started and people walked or traveled on horses for days to get from one place to another. It took more than two days for travelers those days from Wangduephodrang to reach Thimphu.

“I was heading for Thimphu to take part in a tournament, under the royal command,” said Sha Bodhi. “There was no motor road from Wangduephodrang to Thimphu then and I had to spend a night at Nahi and another night at Chhuzomsa (now Chhunzom) before reaching Thimphu,” he recalled.

While in Thimphu, Sha Bodhi had to build his own hut (bago) somewhere near the archery range and there too he spent most of his evenings practicing his skills. He remembers that there were only two archery ranges in Thimphu then. “One at the Dechhencholing military camp (Kusung makhang) and the other at late His Majesty’s palace.”

During his first tournament in Thimphu, Sha Bodhi who played with third King’s team again succeeded in proving his unmatched skills hitting more than 30 kareys in a match.

“Recognizing my unique skill, the third King exempted me from all sorts of works,” said Sha Bodhi. He added that, during the third King’s time, sharp shooters and good archers didn’t have to work for living, they were made to practice archery repeatedly to improve their skills and their means was taken care of by the government.

“The third King constantly reminded us that we should pass on our skills to the future generation, that the country’s national sport should be preserved,” Sha Bodhi said.

While practicing, sometimes the leading archers would play on money. A karey would fetch Nu. 2 and a dhaya (when the arrow lands somewhere near the target within a feet’s reach) would fetch Nu. 1.

“During my days money was powerful. A ngultrum could buy 10 kilogram’s of rice. I never had to work to buy things at home, I earned it from the matches I played and from the bets I won,” said Sha Bodhi. “Since I always hit 30 to 35 karays and countless dhayas a day I used to earn not less than Nu. 250 from the players which was why most archers would fret playing with me for money.”

At 72, although Sha Bodhi is still keen and passionate about the game he cannot participate in any of the tournaments now that he has lost his earlier finesses to his old age.

“My eyesight is failing me now. The target looks blur. I still play on bet but now the only difference is, I lose,” Sha Bodhi said. Now-days people play for Nu. 20 a karey and Nu. 10 a dhaya.

At present Sha Bodhi spends most of his time at home, making traditional bamboo bows and arrows and selling them, which fetches him between Nu. 350 to Nu. 700 depending on their quality. During tournaments Sha Bodhi is usually seen sitting among a crowd of spectators at the archery range at the Changlimithang stadium following every match, reminiscing about his glorious days.

“Archery has taken up much of my time in life.”