DISCOVER BHUTAN: Archery, The National Sport of Bhutan

 Archery, known as Dhaa in the national language of Bhutan, is one of the favorite traditional sports played in the Himalayan Kingdom. Archery was instituted as the national game in 1971 when Bhutan joined the United Nations. 

Archery as a sport is deeply woven into the fabric of Bhutanese society. Not only is it a national hobby, archery is also a distinct feature of Bhutan’s rich heritage and tradition. 

Archery was established as a sport in the 17th century during the reign of the 12th Druk Desi (temporal leader) Ngawang Gyaltshen. Since then, archery has evolved into a beloved national pastime. 

His Majesty the second King of Bhutan was an ardent archery enthusiast who organized major archery tournaments, contributing to the popularity and cultural significance of the sport. The tradition of royal participation in archery extends beyond the second King, with subsequent monarchs actively engaging in the sport during special occasions. This practice not only showcases the royal family’s affinity for archery but also fosters a profound bond between the king and the people, embodying a cherished tradition of unity and amaraderie.

While archery is predominantly a male-dominated sport in Bhutan, an increasing number of women has also started playing archery in recent years. The love for the game of archery is particularly visible during public holidays and local festivals such as traditional New Year (losar). As competing teams engage in archery matches, the air is filled with the sounds of cheers, songs, and celebratory dances. Archery matches in Bhutan are a spectacle that draws large crowds of spectators and archery enthusiasts. 

Archers use traditional bows crafted from bamboo (pagshing) and arrows made from lightweight bamboo shafts fitted with iron heads and pheasant feather fletchings. Each team comprises 13 archers and each archer gets to shoot a pair of arrows at two wooden targets (bah) located 140 meters apart in the archery range (bacho). 

Matches are typically played until one side attains 25 points, with the winner being declared after winning two out of three games. Traditional customs such as pre-match rituals and victory ceremonies are encouraged to preserve cultural heritage.

Archery tournaments are usually played between villages, organizations and institutes. Several popular national archery tournaments are held every year across the country. 

However, traditional archery in Bhutan is evolving. Imported compound bows and steel arrows have found its way into the sport, altering the dynamics as well as the traditional significance of archery. 

Bhutan Indigenous Games and Sports Association (BIGSA), a body that safeguards traditional Bhutanese games and sports, is promoting traditional archery tournaments and enforcing rules to uphold the sport’s heritage. BIGSA has issued comprehensive guidelines to govern traditional archery tournaments. These regulations ensure the safety of participants and spectators while preserving the cultural integrity of the sport. 

Bhutan also maintains a national Olympic archery team. 

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