Songs of arrow and archery

Bhutan Today,19 May 2010



A Khasi Poet and writer from Assam, Kynpham Sing, and the Bhutanese folk performer and musicologist, Jigme Drukpa, joined hands to create a melodious muse about archery among the listeners present in the ‘Mountain Echoes’ literary festival yesterday.

They talk of bows and arrows, and how music and poetry sprang from one weapon; thus, bonding both the Khasi culture with the Bhutanese culture with the resemblance of song and poetry archery.

“According to Khasi folklore, archery was considered to be a god given game and many unique traditions grew around it. One of such tradition is the unique and inimitable power of traditional form of the khasi poetry,” said Kynpham Sing, talking about the literature of archery in his work ‘Khasi archery, from god given gift to gambling, from folklore to poetry and dream psychology’.

He talked about the two kinds of Khasi archery: the ‘colourful festivity’ (Rong-bi-riya in Khasi) which is not merely an archery competition between two groups or two villages, but a huge community and cultural event; the other kind is ‘shooting by teams’ (Siat-teem in Khasi) which is a form of gambling and tickets are sold in counters in Shillong.

Amusingly in the latter kind of archery, Kynpham Sing said, Khasi people believed in unique numbers based on dream interpretation.

“A dream is analyzed and broken down and related to numbers,” he said, “If you dream of a woman bathing, that is 75, 57 because woman is 7 and water is 5. If you dream of a naked woman, its 50 since woman is 5 and 0 for the roundness and suppleness of a woman. This is the closer view of Khasi archery and the literature behind it.”

Talking about abusive fervor in Khasi archery poetry, Kynpham Sing said that the archery verse has the use of violence, brutality and even sexual images.

Jigme Drukpa said, “In Bhutan, archery is done more in the form of a ritual, rather than a sport. Archery involves almost all the family members and monks as well to recite prayers for the luck of the archers.”

He also said “The Bhutanese musical instrument, Dra-ngym (lute) is said to have sprung from the string of a bow belonging to a hunter. Thus, this musical association between archery and song goes back to antiquity.”

He also said that in Bhutan normally men play archery, while women usually partake in dancing and encourage the players.

According to a research, the history of archery in India can be traced back to the ancient civilization, when bows and arrows were used as a weapon to hunt wild animals and used in warfare. The heroic efforts of the archers at the battlefield helped gain triumph over several kingdoms. Studies also imply that pines were used for making arrows in the ancient times since they consisted of a long fore shaft and a flint point.

Though there is not much account of Bhutanese archery, yet it is the national sport of Bhutan. It is completely a male sport although women are as much part of the whole affair for their participation in the rituals of dancing and verbal encouragements that come with the game. Sarcastic refrains are often made about the archers by the singing women in an attempt to distract the players from hitting a straight arrow.

By Sonam Dema in THIMPHU