Archery – ‘the celebration of the Bhutanese way of life’

“An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. When life is dragging you back with difficulties, just imagine that it’s going to launch you into something great!”

Archery or “Datse”, as locally called in Dzongkha language is the national sport of Bhutan. The much celebrated sport can be traced back in 600 B.C., used as an essential tool for hunting and war battles. In course of time, it has evolved into a social game enjoyed by all, whether be it the royals or the locals. Archery gained popularity following its official recognition in 1971; while the kingdom joined the United Nations the same year.

The traditional Bhutanese bows commonly known as zhu are made of bamboo with twisted stinging nettle strings. The arrows are lead–tipped bamboo sticks with bird feathers. While professional archers use the compound bows for international tournaments, these traditional bow and arrows are still preferred by the locals during festivals. The bow and arrow represents a religious significance in the life of the Bhutanese and their culture as they use it in different ceremonies, rituals, and other social activities.

No festival or celebration in Bhutan is considered complete without archery and mask dances. Besides the striking cultural celebration of the local festivals (Tsechu), majority are drawn to the traditional archery tournaments held among the villagers – the battles for honor.

Bhutanese band performing in a local archery tournament

With two teams passionately competing with each other, the archers of each team stare down visualizing by mind onto the small wooden targets, placed at the end of a 145 meters range (double the Olympic distance of 90 meters). Each team has their own set of singers and dancers performing varied traditional songs and dances about love, enlightenment, and karma.

A common yet surprising sight is of the natives standing casually next to the targets cheering enthusiastically for their teams as well as mocking and distracting their opponents, passing comments on poor aims. At a successful attempt of hitting the target, teammates celebrate with a slow motion dance praising the shooter who tucks a colourful scarf into his belt. It is a remarkable sport deep rooted in Bhutanese culture as a symbol of festivity and rivalry.

Women dressed in their traditional attire – Kira entertaining the audience with their dance performance

Witnessing such a lively social event is an unparallel experience on its own as ‘Archery is the celebration of the Bhutanese way of life.’

According to Prince Jigyel Ugyen -“Buddhism is about emptying your mind, and so is archery,” “Once you pull the bow, you forget about everything else and find complete bliss. And if you can hold that mentality for 24 hours and 365 days, that’s enlightenment.”

Traditional Attires of the Himalayas

Blessed with one of the richest cultures of the world, these power places of the Himalayas proudly embrace their traditional attires as an integral part of their daily lives.

Bhutan, ‘the last Shangri – La’, is known worldwide for their brilliance in being able to guard their cultural values. The Bhutanese people are bound by a strict rule of national dress code in their day to day lives. Even today, Bhutanese people can be seen in their colorful traditional Bhutanese attire – Gho worn by men and Kira worn by women, which is believed to be a 16th century old custom. Their national costume adds to their national pride and serves as a unique identity.

Gho is a knee-length dress, identical to the Japanese kimono and the Scottish kilt. It is tied up at the waist with a hand woven belt called kera, forming a pouch in the front. The sleeves are usually made of raw silk, cotton or polyester, which are neatly folded to form white cuffs called lagey. The costume is complete with long socks or stockings and traditional handmade boots. Men also can be seen wearing Kabney, a long scarf made of raw silk, worn from left shoulder to opposite hip; especially when visiting dzong or a temple, or even when appearing before a high level official. The locals, regional officials, ministers and the King, wear significant coloured Kabney, indicating varied status on its own.

Kira is an ankle – length long skirt piece, made with fine woven fabrics and beautiful colour patterns. Inside the kira, a long sleeve blouse called wonju is worn. The set is completed with a short open jacket called as tego worn over the dress. Rachu, an embroidered woven scarf, also made of raw silk and rich patterns is hung over the shoulder.

Nepal is a multi – ethnic country with over 100 ethnic groups, each having unique cultural values, practices, traditional attires, accessories and jewelries different than the others. While the national dress of Nepal is Daura – Suruwal or Labeda Suruwal for men and Gunyo-Cholo for women, the Nepalese are greatly influenced by clothing styles of the neighboring countries which have led to significant variations in the costumes.

Daura is a double breasted sleeved shirt of knee length, which is tied up at the sides. It is worn with Suruwal, a loosely fitted trouser, with a long cloth called Patuka wrapped around the waist. The set is complete with Dhaka Topi, a traditional cap made of fabric – Dhaka, which is a symbol of national pride. Some also wear a waist – coat over the shirt and carry a khukuri, the national weapon and the symbol of the brave Gurkha soldiers of Nepal. The Nepalese men proudly wear their traditional costume during festivals and special occasions as it holds a religious importance for the Hindu and Buddhist practitioners of Nepal.

Cholo is a top or blouse which is tied at the sides and Gunyo is a sari (skirt like), woven from cotton or silk fabrics, draped around the waist. On top of the Gunyo, a long cloth called Patuki is wrapped around the waist. The costume is complete with traditional jewelries.

Nepalese women can mostly be seen in elegant Sari, a five to nine yards length fabric, draped around the waist with one end draped over the shoulder. The sari is worn with a fitted crop blouse having short or long sleeves. A matching petticoat or inner skirt is worn under the sari. The sari is linked with grace and is widely popular as traditional attire worn during various festivals and special occasions of Nepal.

Tibet also has several ethnicities each with their own set of customary attire. The main costume is the chuba, a distinctive piece of ankle length robe tied around the waist with wide elongated sleeves, worn by both men and women differently. Women wear dark-colored wrap dresses over a silk blouse called wonju, and a colorfully striped, woven wool apron, called pangden signifying the marital status of a woman. Men wear the unique woolen hat while ladies adorn their crowns with ornaments made of precious stones. The dress originated as a clothing to protect themselves in the high altitude and from the cold temperatures of the Himalayas.