Development of Archery

Print This Page Print This Page

THE DEVELOPMENT OF ARCHERY IN BHUTAN

As prophesized by Lhamo Dudselma (Dhumavati Devi – a form of Palden Lhamo, the guardian deity of Bhutan), Lama Drukpa Kuenley is believed to have shot an arrow from Nangkartse in Tibet in the 15th century praying that it should land in a place where his descendants would flourish. The arrow hit the staircase of Tshewang’s house in Toebesa, Lhomon (Another traditional name of Bhutan) aimed a thunderous sound. The Lama then followed his arrow. He came across the tong (Notch of the arrow) at a place in Wang (Traditional name for the valley of Thimphu) which came to known as Da tong Gonpa or the Gonpa (A retreat or a monastery) of the Arrow’s Notch. This subsequently became the seat of Da tong Trulku (A re-incarnation of a lama. The present Trulku is the 12th in line). In Shelngana village in Punakha, a Gonpo by the same name today is the winter residence of Datong Trulku. The arrow is believed to have hit Tshewang’s staircase after flying through Nagbay Tongnyi located behind Dochula (The mountain pass between Thimphu and Wangdiphodrang) pass. More precisely, this place is located between Dochula and Hinglela (Another mountain pass located enroute to Thimphu from Wangdiphodrang via Nahing village).Following the arrow, Drukpa Kuenley then arrived at Toebesa. Since there was a properly that a son Tshewang Tenzin would be born out of wedlock between the Lama and Norzom, Tshewang’s wife, he slept with her. Infuriated,Tshewang attacked the lama with a knife. But the lama gently bent and twisted the knife without any effort. This miraculous act aroused great faith in Tshewang who asked for forgiveness and implored the lama for blessing. And the lama said.

Toebi Tshewang ventures the Dharma Drukpa Kuenley adores his wife Good luck to Dharma-lover and wife-lover!

Later, the village gradually came to be known by its present name, Chhandana (Chhanda is honorific term for arrow). The lama’s arrow and the knotted knife of Tshewang are both believed to be kept inside the Jowo (Statue of Lord Buddha) at Tango Monastery as its Zung (“That which holds’. An item with a mystic charm that is the most important content of a statue). Since that time, people have been receiving blessings of the lama’s arrow. Even today, visitors to Chime Lhakhang founded by the lama, are blessed by bow and arrow, and by a wooden phallus. It appears that bows and arrows were used as weapons to hunt for a long time. Only during the reign of Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuk, the first King of Bhutan has archery become a sport. He preferred it among other sports and games. The arrows he used for his daily pastimes weighed about 7 tola (Measure of weights for precious metals like gold and silver). However, he had a different set of arrow made specifically to shoot if the target were hit with many arrows of the opponents. They were made from the thick shaft of Zhushing (A species of bamboo used particularly for making bows), not from ordinary bamboo. A metal tip with a flat end was fixed to it. Its purpose is not to hit the target and stay there, but remove all other arrows on the target by its force. It is said that when this arrow hits the target, all others would be let loose, and thereby leave every spectator highly amazed. Similarly, the second king Jigme Wangchuk is known to have taken very keen interest in archery. He would summon all his attendants and the best of archers and play continuously for over twenty days. His zeal and enthusiasm have been a crucial factor in promoting archery among people from all walks of life. The target would be adorned with scarves of different colours. They would be awarded to anyone who hits the target. The scarves would be fastened at the waist of archers. If His Majesty were very pleased with the performance of any archer, he would not only award scarves and clothing materials but also give away betams (Coins) and cash. To those archers who scored the highest hits, he would reward them with bulls and Marzong (Of the two kinds of clothing material traditionally offered as gifts, Marzong is superior and includes woven textiles. The other known as Chazong is inferior and plain). Tandin Dirji, a former judge who now lives in Babesa, Thimphu recalls being awarded Nu. 16, a bull and one Lungsem (Hand woven with intricate designs, it is one of the most expensive of clothes) gho (Dress worn by men) in a single day for his performance. This fact was corroborated by Rabjam Tagchu from Haa, who taught me dacham and by other attendants who played with the King: Bau Zhelngo Tandin Dorji, Phobji Petag, Dragpa, and by Toed Chung, former penlop (Governor of one of the dungkhag or sub-districts of Thimphu. There were traditionally seven dungkhags under Thimphu districts. The post of five governors of these dungkhag known as dungpa were abolished in 1952 while two including Penlop of Toebesa were maintained) of Toebesa. The tradition of adorning the target site and that of awarding scarves to archers who hit the target were initiated by the second king.

On the contrary, His Majesty would command that a barrel of Chhang (Locally distilled alcohol) be offered to others by those archers who do not score a single hit. Even today, people ridicule archers by saying, you are left in the barrel’ if he does not hot the target even once in a match. So talented were the archers then that people like Bau Zhelngo and Tandin Dorji would be considered as those ‘Left in the barrel’ even if they hit the target ten times in a day. Old timers recall that if Tandin Dorji scored fifteen or twenty six times, and therefore, always win by a single hit. Once His Majesty placed a silver Chakar (Container for keeping betel nuts) adorned with gold in front of the target and had the two men shoot at it. One of them hit it and drilled a hole, and challenged the other to split open the closed container. This was done with a single shot. He thereafter challenged the former to hit it yet again and make it unusable. With a single hit, the container was reportedly made unusable.

There were many skilled archers and sharpshooters even in the villages. Agay Pema from Goenchuna, a village located on the way to Punakha was one of them. If he were drunk, others had to let him rest against the target until his turn to shoot comes. Then, one of them had to help him on his feet. Nevertheless, it was said that when he shot, he always scored a dobji (Hitting the target with both the arrows an archer shoots in one round). During a match, two competing teams were unable to win the game as players from each team cancelled the score of the other. Then, Agay Pema placed a bamboo splint in front of the target. It was only as wide as a thumb. He declared that if any archer from either of the team could split it, that team would win the match. As expected, no one could hit it. But Agay Pema split it right from the middle, and his team won.

There were many skilled archers and sharpshooters even in the villages. Agay Pema from Goenchuna, a village located on the way to Punakha was one of them. If he were drunk, others had to let him rest against the target until his turn to shoot comes. Then, one of them had to help him on his feet. Nevertheless, it was said that when he shot, he always scored a dobji (Hitting the target with both the arrows an archer shoots in one round). During a match, two competing teams were unable to win the game as players from each team cancelled the score of the other. Then, Agay Pema placed a bamboo splint in front of the target. It was only as wide as a thumb. He declared that if any archer from either of the team could split it, that team would win the match. As expected, no one could hit it. But Agay Pema split it right from the middle, and his team won.

There also lived a sharpshooter called Damche Wangdi from Wang Simu. It is said that if he were playing in a match, his opponents would never be at peace until he has shot his arrows. Once someone lifted him. His heels were off the ground. He was challenged to hit the target by playing from a levitated poisition. He reportedly yelled saying, ‘Let the target look like a goat with horns’ and scored a dobji, Amazed that his arrows appear to hit as he contemplates (gom), he was nick named Gom Nagchu. After the incident, other archers are believed to have sworn that they would never play a match with him. Damche Wangdi was reportedly a very ugly person with a dark complexion.

The system of claiming stakes in archery matches has also been established during the time of the second King. The saying, ‘One has the right not to play, but even a prince has to play the stake if he lose’ is attributed to His Majesty.

One of the renowned figures of that time was Haa Dungpa Tandin Ngedup. He was a very strong and well-built person. His bow made of pakshing held together by an iron clamp, and arrows made from bamboo tips can still be seen in his house at Changja, Wang Sisina. It is that if his arrows, also made from thick pakshing and tips fixed with metal clamps hit the target, all other arrows would be dislodged ans lose scores. His Majesty came to hear of him and sent an emissary to bring a sample of his bow. He sent the lightest one and asked the emissary to report that he would once submit himself personally to His Majesty. When the bow was submitted, His Majesty commanded that a bowstring be put on it. Even two attendants could not bend the bow. His Majesty then commended that the Haa Dungpa be summoned. During an audience, His Majesty asked him how he could play with his bow when people were unable to put a bowstring on it. He proudly submitted that it was the lightest of his bows, and put the bowstring on it without standing. His Majesty commanded him to prepare for a game in a day or two. Tandin Ngedup could make his own arrows as and when required. His Majesty was pleased to see him even make his own arrow tips. He was awarded many gifts.

Besides archery, he also used to play other sports. At the age of sixty four, he used to play degor (One of the traditional sports played by throwing two flat stones at a target alternatively between opponents), each weighing about 3.5 kilograms. These degor are still found in his house.

Archery as a sport became popular in Bhutan especially during the reigns of the first and second king. Metal arrows, compound and synthetic bows, and bows made of synthetic materials were gradually used during the reign of the third king. They are very popular today.