The Art of Dha

The Art of Dha

“The Divine Arrow can be seen only when it hits, not when it is shot.” ~
Traditional Bhutanese Proverb

Archery – or ‘dha’  - in Bhutan is not just a sport, it is a way of life and its roots lie deep in legends of this Himalayan country.

In 600 B.C., an Indian prince, Prince Siddhartha, emerged victorious in an archery competition and so won the hand of the beautiful Princess Yosodhara. This prince eventually became known as the Buddha. Since then, the bow and arrow have been central to Bhutanese culture, not just in war, but also in religion (deities are often depicted holding bows and arrows), festivals, and competitions. Today, every village no matter how small, boasts its own archery range.

Bhutan archery dha

 

Traditional Bhutanese archery differs in many ways from the Olympic version of the sport. For example, the Bhutanese range is 145m long, twice the length of an Olympic one. And, while Olympian archers have advanced composite bows, the Bhutanese use bows made of bamboo and arrows made from a reed (hema) gathered from the foothills.

Archery tournaments are social events played between teams, villages, or towns. More festival than competition, these tournaments are extremely slow-paced - games can last for days and have been known to stretch out over a month – and are always accompanied by singing, dancing and plenty of ara, the local brew.

And it’s not just about the archery; tournaments are verbal battles too as the archers show off their literary and intellectual skills by praising their arrows, encouraging teammates, and taunting their opponents. A favourite taunt is Bjagoed phu sa do chap kay, which translates as ‘where the vulture flies, my stone shall fly, there to collide’ and promises a bullseye to reset the opponent’s team’s score. 

Every time a target is hit there is celebration and howling. The archer ties a colourful sash to their belt and the team lines up, faces the target, and breaks out into traditional song and dance.

Bhutan archery dha


It is impossible to capture the thrill of a Bhutanese archery competition in words - why not come and experience it in person on our once-in-a-lifetime holiday to Bhutan and Northeast India