Archery wagers – money, feast and honour

Posted by-admin(June 4, 2009)

What was your wager this losar? Were you playing for your village or for your company? Or were you playing with your friends to mark the new lunar year?

After the match, you may have been one of the archers who simply produced phob tora (small square piece of cloth wrapped around a pair of wooden bowls) to receive the feast arranged by your opponents. You may have learnt that phob tora describes a type of wager where all that the winners do is produce phob tora while losers prepare a feast.

Or could you have been playing for zaachom or a feast, a variation of phob tora wager. Here, despite the match outcome, the winners and losers share a feast as well as expenses for it. If you were a winner, though, you would contribute lesser.

If you played for zaachom, sometimes, it would be midnight before you have your feast. Kinley, 40, from Kabji says, “It would sometimes be middle of night by the time we start feasting or zaachom because sometimes we would be promised fish and men go to catch them after the match.” Kinley has been playing archery for more than 10 years.

Sometimes, wealthier individuals of the host village bear the expenses for zaachom. Then, you are obliged to treat them as the patrons with a special place in the match whatever their skill. If there were no such forthcoming individuals, the expenses are shared by the team members.

Zaachom is a usual wager for matches among friends and organizations. And because of increasing number of such teams, there is a variation to zaachom wager too. According to it, one team would host a feast while the other would bring scarves to mark hits.

During an archery match feast, you would be treated to a whole pig carcass with a number of vegetable and rice dishes, with chicken and fish sometimes high on the menu.

If you had played in Haa or Paro, you would have noticed that there were no team wagers or feasts, as practised sometimes. The visiting players in such a match, theko, are treated to meals individually by the host team members. Before the match, each member of the visiting team randomly picks up a bowl from a basket containing the opponent team members’ bowls. The owner of the bowl you have picked up becomes your host and will provide you food and accommodation during the match.

This practice is similar to choenda or final matches (meaning annual matches) played in Sha and other parts of Wangduephodrang. Choenda matches have no wagers but feasts are hosted in turns irrespective of the match outcome. The match venue village is the host. All the team members share expenses equally. But, even in choenda, winning is more important than the wager.

Gyeltshen, 35, from Wangduephodrang said, “During choendas, teams may provide the best of food to each other but the players employ every possible means to win.” Besides constant practice, “village astrologers are consulted and the order in which players shoot out is divined according to their age. Effigies of the opposing team members would be made and desecrated with every defilement and pollutant possible – like immersing them in pit toilets.

However crude the practice may be, you can justify that it is necessary. Otherwise, the losing team members would have to hear the taunting of the winners in every gewog gathering or at every encounter.

In whichever match you played, choenda or phob tora, were you part of betting within your own team as commonly done? This is designed to harness the full potential of team members during the match. Sometimes, the bet is a certain number of hits, reaching which one can take away a part or whole amount of a certain sum collected from the team members. Usually, the bet is Nu 50 or 100 from other team members, who have no hits in a particular round. This is how the whole team is strengthened.

During practice or pastime matches too, bets are staked. One can collect Nu 100, 200 or 500 for a lone hit or triple the amount for dobji or consecutive two hits in a round. At one time, Kabji Kinley has won Nu 18,000 in three hours through such bets.

But it is not only through kareys or hits that one can win money but also through kuu or game set wagers. In this, players are divided into threes or fours to play for five or seven game sets. The winning team walks away with the wager money of usually Nu 100 or 200.

Bahadur Rai, who works in Thimphu Hospital, says he is part of a group of twelve skilled archers, well known to one another, who put bets on game set as well as on individual kareys on Sundays. He has won Nu 8000 in a session and lost Nu 7000 in another.

But when you cannot finish a game set at dusk, you play chhagni style (sweep) wager. In this style, you can collect the game set’s whole amount or a set amount from the individuals with your highest points in a single round. You do not necessarily have to hit the target to win. If others have no hits and your arrow has landed closest to the target, you take the sweepstake.

contributed By Tshewang


7 March 2009

Aum Jashemaam for all, none for her

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Since ancient times, she has been revered and worshipped by the archers and the locals of Changzamtog. Now, even soccer players, volleyball players or basketball players join archers to seek her divine intervention to help win games. She is known to bestow her blessings to all those who seek them. She does not discriminate. Though she is the local guardian deity or ‘molha’ or of Changzamtog, she helps all those who have come from far and from other villages. She is known as Aum Ja-She-Maam, the lady guardian who graces the small stupa in Changzamtog area of Thimphu.

The chorten is located at the crossroads between the road from FCB Thimphu stores and road from the expressway to Chang Gedaphu. It was in the 15th-16th century when the Divine Mad Monk, Lama Drukpa Kuenlay, was in Bhutan that he designated a lady attendant as the ‘Molha’ of Changzamtog. Since then, Aum Jasehmaam has blessed all. She has been worshipped as the birth deity, a protector.

Ex-Gup Ugyen Tshering of Changzamtog says that the lady deity has helped their village team in several matches to bring sudden luck and to enhance skills of their archers. Gup Drep was playing archery when he made this statement. All other archers with him agreed to the statement. But he rues that the Lady is equally favourable to the opposing team, if they also sought her. So in the course of match, a person has to frequently go back to the stupa and ‘bring blessings’ from her to the archery range.

The term ‘bringing’ blessings in the local language is “receiving of scarves” which can be literal, in a sense that an archer or a team would take some scarves and asks a guardian deity to bless them. And the scarves are taken back to the field. But then, to show the scarves in public and to the opponents is not sensible as they would do the same.

Kinley Gyeltshen, 47, from Changzamtog admits that he sought help of the Lady Guardian several times by going to the chorten with some food offerings and doma and pani (betel leaf and areca nut) in his pouch to ask her to champion their team. He would then go to the range of ongoing match and have his village players eat the ambrosia nuts.

Ap Kinley remembers the time when their team reached 24 points in quick successive rounds (25 points is usual game set in traditional archery matches) after the players had taken ‘doma’ from Aum Jashemaam he had brought. “She ‘comes’ for certain,” Ap Kinley Gyeltshen says “even if it is for a short time”. They lost the match, though.

In earlier days, for grander matches, the deity used to be invoked more elaborately – while playing against a village from a different valley like Punakha, for instance. There would be purification rituals and invocation prayers before her blessings (in the form of white silk scarves) are received and ‘taken’ in a procession accompanied by singing and dancing.

Even the daily offerings made then were quite substantial. There would be eleven bowls of different food offerings to represent the eleven households in Changzamtog village that took care of the stupa in turns. Such offerings included daily invocation prayers and butter lamps, made by two families who had been designated to look after the stupa for a year. But such offerings, made daily earlier, have now become rare.

Such a practice (which also included the security and maintenance responsibilities with funds collected from the villagers) continued until Changzamtog came to be designated as an urban area in 1999 and became part of Thimphu City Corporation.

Gup Ugyen Tshering says that, after becoming part of the city and due to the increase in new residents, the assignment of the responsibility could not be coordinated well. “Now the original families offer prayers within their homes and during their annual rituals,” said Gup.

And even taking care of the stupa is done on an ad hoc basis, with people looking after the stupa voluntarily. It is because, now, there is no central authority such as Gup to lead such coordination.

The City Corporationhas no department or individuals to look after such sites. Officiating Thrompon Gyeltshen Drukpa said that they “have plans to create a new division and appoint a Cultural Officer”. Other than demarcating the site of the stupa to be public area, they have not been involved in the maintenance of the site.

He pointed to the Dzongkhag administration which has the Cultural Officer and the authority over the district. However, Cultural Officer Lungten Jamtsho says that, although there is a clear number of such stupas and temples, the dzongkhag has not yet designated any particular body to look after the upkeep of such sites, after the village became part of the Thimphu urban area. He said that such issues of looking after cultural sites would be discussed during the forthcoming Dzongkhag Yargay Tshogchhung on February 16.

Nagtsho Dorji from the Department of Culture said that the department was aware of the existence of the stupa because of a related site across the river in Changjiji, where the ‘pholha’ or the male guardian is known to reside. But the department, she said, particularly looks after national heritage sites and is involved when there is a need of ‘major’ renovation works and not in daily upkeep of sites. Dratshang Lhentshog is concerned in sending people to man such sites only.

So, the villagers work with no proper coordination, the City is in the process of creating a division, the Department of Culture is frying bigger fishes and the dzongkhag is yet to ‘discuss the issue’ leaving no one for the Lady, who has been there for all.

As of now, according to some archers from Changzamtog, children are picking off any sporadic offerings made there and passersby are littering the site. People seem to be unaware of the blessings that the Lady bestows.

Some archers of Changzamtog said that, unlike other guardian deities who are known to be wrathful to instances of desecrations and irregularity in prayer offerings, their lady guardian has been passive and accommodating – only bestowing blessings, without discrimination. Lucky for many!

Contributed By Tsewang
Source: www.bhutanobserver.bt 14 February 2009

Shooting with unseen bows for a giant visible goal

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Forty-nine young people draw their invisible bows in six different steps to the loud calls of their instructors at Changlingmithang field for full five week days. Along with the drawing of imaginary bows (sometimes replaced by rubber bands), to develop the right form for shooting arrows, they also undergo physical trainings such as running, stretching and weight trainings. They sometimes get an opportunity to experience an actual bow, which the instructors call the ‘training bow’ – a bow with lower poundage. But that is rare because for now, the beginners have “to develop the right form to be able to shoot well”, according to the Assistant Coach of Bhutan Archery Federation (BAF), Tshering Choden.

These people are confined to shooting invisible arrows with invisible bows, at least for a month, as part of their trainings. And it was at the beginning of the New Year that saw BAF quietly embark on this new strategy to improve the Bhutanese competitive archery skills, by selecting some young Bhutanese with interest in the national game for the training and to gauge their potential to be life-long professional archers. They call it “Talent Hunt” The federation has clearly outlined the goal, which is to win medals in the future Olympics. Lyponpo Kinzang Dorji, the President of BAF, says that the ultimate goal of the new programme is to train archers from a young age to be “world-class” and “win medals” in the Olympics, in particular during the 2016 Olympics, as the present training would be inadequate to compete well in London. “We have already won at the Asian games, where about 45 countries participate – we hope to reach the next level,” he said.

Lyonpo, who has seen archery grow in Bhutan and has been the President of BAF since 1988, said he was impressed with the talent and aptitude of the young archers who were being trained, and saw a tremendous potential in them to be truly worldclass archers.

This programme has been started in the capital, but the federation plans to take it to the regions. In the immediate future, depending on the approval of funds by the International Olympic Committee, Lyonpo would like to see federation provide a “taste of international competition style archery” by conducting programmes to promote the game and find talents. Such programmes would feature demonstrations, participation from the youth and audience to the people from all sections and regions of the Bhutanese society.

The selection of the participants was based mainly on physical fitness. They were chosen for two categories – junior category for the under- 14 years and senior category for the above-14 years. There are eight girls from 25 trainees in the junior category and 15 girls out of 24 in the senior category.

The age limit had been announced as not being above 18 years but given fewer applicants in the senior category, a 24-year-old had to be taken in later. The youngest among the participants is nine years of age. The consent of the parents had to be sought in case of the juniors.

Kinley Wangmo, 13, is earnestly training to be an archer. She said she had come to join the training to find out whether archery was her calling. Not to mention that she is being given Nu 1,500 for a month’s training along with the other juniors. The seniors get double the amount. And the two coaches, assisted by regular senior archers, are careful of giving them what they call the ‘soft training’, which will intensify with the gradual increase in interest, so as to avoid the trainees being discouraged at the initial stages.

Both the categories are being evaluated on every activity every day in their ‘Discipline’, ‘Physical fitness’ and ‘Shooting skill’. Tshering Choden diligently marks their regularity in training attendance, their lap times, their improvement in strength, their improvement in forms, etc to gauge the development in the areas. Based on these evaluation records, from among seniors, at least 10 of them would be chosen to be professional archers.

From among the juniors, those with a good potential would be trained even when they are in school after BAF gets approval from the schools concerned for the children to attend their trainings timed during the regular school games period.

The BAF seeks 25 men and 25 women to represent the country during all times. As of now, there are four women and nine men on full-time.

Contributed by Tsewang

Source:www.bhutanobserver.com6 February 2009

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.”

Marchang Ceremony During archery tournaments

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Like everything else, the other side of archery begins with God. Every time a tournament is under way, there are suddenly silent, unassuming, sentinels at every sacred place. One archer can’t quite forget his moment of triumph, even though it was not in the real game, and still gets ecstatic every time he regales listeners with the story. Temples and deities are much, or most, sought during tournaments. Archers say the simplest short cut to victory is appeasing your protectors and carrying to the game a piece of anything blessed by the deities.

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