Bhutan | Bumthang

Local Bhutanese Archery Competition

Embrace Bhutan Cultural Tour

Bumthang | Bhutan

15 Nov 2019 | Fri

Day 09 of 13

  • Ta Rimochen Lhakhang
  • Local Bhutanese Archery Competition
  • Chamkhar Town Bumthang
  • Prakhar Tshechu – Prakhar Lhakhang
  • Local Bhutanese Store
  • Kiki La Pass Prayer Flags
  • Return Visit – Hotel Ugyen Ling Jakar

Local Bhutanese Archery Competition

After leaving Ta Rimochen Lhakhang, we got back on the road to continue our journey to visit the Prakhar Tshechu Festival at Prakhar Lhakhang. After a short time, we happened upon a local Bhutanese archery competition.

Archery in Bhutan is the national sport of the Kingdom. Archery was declared the national sport in 1971, when Bhutan became a member of the United Nations. Since then, the popularity of Bhutanese archery has increased both inside and outside Bhutan, with a measure of government promotion. Bhutan also maintains an Olympic archery team. Previously, competitions were held only at dzongkhag and gewog levels, however modernly, archery tournaments and competitions are held throughout the country. Archery is played during religious and secular public holidays in Bhutan, local festivals (tsechu), between public ministries and departments, and between the dzonkhag and the regional teams. Archery tournaments and performances have also become a significant point of interest for tourism in Bhutan.

Every village has a field for archery; Changlimithang Stadium in Thimphu is one of the kingdom’s most prominent archery fields. The most notable archery competition in Bhutan are Coronation National Archery tournament and Yangphel tournament. Other major archery competitions are held during Losar, the Bhutanese and Tibetan New Year.

Bhutanese archery teams number at 13 players; teams take turns shooting two arrows at a time first in one direction, then in the opposite direction. The first to score 25 points wins, however because the scoring system is complicated, winning can take a very long time. For example, a second hit by an opponent can invalidate the other player’s score. In addition, the interplay of wider socializing and festivities, with archery as the nominal focus, gives Bhutanese archery competitions an excruciatingly slow pace. In the past, the most traditional matches could last for as long as a month, though modern matches tend to span a number of days.

The distance to the target is about 145 metres (476 ft). The relatively small targets are cut from wood and brightly painted, usually measuring about 3 feet (91 cm) tall and 11 inches (28 cm) wide. Bullseyes are called karay. Traditionally, Bhutanese bows are made of bamboo, and arrows from bamboo or reeds, fletched with feather vanes. Arrows may be painted and tipped with metal arrowheads. Quivers may be wooden, with an animal hide covering and a woven strap.

Competing archers also engage in verbal battle, giving players a chance to display intellectual and literary skills. In archery matches, bombarding opponents with verbal confrontation is equally important to scoring bullseyes. Players and teammates praise their own arrows, lend advice and encouragement to each other, and demean opponents in florid literary expressions known as kha shed. Competitors must be prepared to provoke or reply in an equal or more impressive literary fashion.

– Wikipedia Archery in Bhutan

Bhutanese Archer Preparing to Shoot Arrow

For this particular event, there were two groups competing against each other. They each had targets set up on opposite sides of the road, with them shooting their arrows over the road. We did not know the official distance, but we were surprised by the long distance between the targets.

Opposing Side Target, Located Across Road

When an individual hit their target, all the members of that group would perform a dance together while chanting. The opposing group on the receiving side (near the target) would also perform a series of dances and chants trying to distract their opponent.

Archer Group Performing Chanting Dance After Hitting Their Target

As a group observing, we found this to be quite dangerous, because the receiving group would wait until the last possible moment to get out of the way before the arrow hit (or missed) its target.

We had heard about such events, but didn’t know if we would get to see one. Even though it was a brief stop, we felt so lucky to have the opportunity to see an event like this!

Map – Local Bhutanese Archery Competition

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