National Sport

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Since archery is very popular among people ranging from an ordinary laymen to a king, it was declared the national sport in 1971 when Bhutan became a member of the United Nations Organizations. Blue Poppy was then declared the national flower,raven the national bird, takin (Bodorcas taxicolour (botanical name), the national animal cypress the national tree, gho and kira the national dress and Gyalpoi Tenzhu, the national song. The popularity of archery has been growing ever since. It is played throughout the year on different occasions. Even government departments and ministries from teams to participate in matches and tournaments. Earlier, Chhoda was played only among different villages and gewog (A sub-division of the districy. There are today 202 gewog in 20 dzongkhag (districts) in the country). Today, it is played among different dzongkhags and regions in the country. This has been a significant factor in enhancing the popularity of archery.

There are other reasons for considering archery the national sport of Bhutan.

  1. The fact that gods in both their wrathful and serene forms are depicted holding the bow and arrow is considered very auspicious.
  2. Bows and arrows were primarily weapons of war.Their usage as principle instruments of destroying enemies is clearly elucidated in the biography of Ling Geser. Besides, they were indispensable means of survival to people who lived by hunting.
  3. The symbolic and religious significances of bow and arrow are associated with the legendary assassination of the anti-Dharma king, Langdarma in Tibet in the 10th century. Lhalung Pelgi Dorji, a Buddhist monk once performed the Black Hat Dance to entertain the king. In the process, he pretended to prostrate but used the occasion to take out the bow and arrow which were hidden inside the large sleeves of the ceremonial dance costumes. He shot the king dead.
  4. In the 15th century, most of the prophecies of Lama Drukpa Kuenley are believed to have originated from his bow and arrow. Moreover, bows and arrows are indispensable item required for any religious ceremonies or rituals. The usage of arrows such as Ten da, Tshe da, La da, Da dar and Chhe mar during public blessing ceremonies, rituals conducted while a new born baby is taken outside the house for the first time, house construction and other social activities underscore their importance in the daily life of the Bhutanese.
  5. Diagram and illustrations of arrows have also been used (in Bhutan and elsewhere) on signboards as symbols to indicate directions.
  6. Archery has been the favourite sport of our kings who popularised it over generations. People from different social strata consider archery one of the most enjoyable sports.
    At the least, playing archery helps archers stay fit owing to physical exercise involved in running between targets.
  7. Archery requires concentration. For most part of the day, the mind has to focus on the target in the process of the game. This is a useful mental exercise. Its importance is reflected in the traditional saying, ‘the mind is one whether you are riding a boat or shooting an arrow’.
  8. Archery facilitates socialization among friends and superiors. It is an opportunity for archers to befriend people whom they have not known before

Preparations for an archery match are very different from other sports. Bows and arrows are bought irrespective of their costs. Since an archery match is a festive occasion, provisions are either bought or borrowed. In a spirit of participation, wives of archers would prepare the best of meals and drinks. They would first send the eldest child to the archery ground carrying flasks of tea and casks of alcohol, and later follow him or her accompanied by other children. The husband who is playing the match would then invite friends and superiors and proudly offer them the food and drinks prepared by his wife. Such festive spirit is reflected in another traditional proverb, which says,’Archery and discus are to men, as songs and dances are to women’.