Archery centers your mind, awakens your ambitions, and showcases your immediate improvements. Its mindful nature is an integral reason many cultures have archery in their DNA. Learning to calm your mind and body to work in tandem attracts many people of different cultures and religions to the sport.
India, for example, respects and honors archery skills. A young archer named Rahul Singh knows that firsthand. He discussed archery’s cultural importance with The Hindu after winning a gold medal this year at the Volga Memorial 11th Mini and Third Kid National Archery Championships.
“My uncles used to hunt with bows and arrows in forests,” Singh said. “Whenever they returned with a big catch it was an honorable moment for them.”
Singh is part of the Paharia tribe and continues his family’s athletic legacy by practicing at the Sports Authority of India Academy. In the Meghalaya region, archery’s deep roots remain in today’s culture. You can find locals betting most days on archery rounds.
Rather than betting on total points, however, spectators bet on the amount of arrows. “Teer,” named after the Hindi word for arrow, is a game of chance in which seasoned archers launch hundreds of arrows at one target. Spectators can bet on numbers between 1 and 99. You win if the last two digits of the total number of arrows in the target match your bet. With over 5,000 bookies taking bets, it’s easy to find one advertising its investment ratios.
Teer is a lighthearted game, but archery’s ancestral importance transcends generations. “Archery was a gift from the gods to the Khasi people of this region,” said Professor Desmond L Kharmawphlang, department head of cultural and creative studies at Shillong’s North-Eastern Hill University. He told the BBC that archery was received by Ka Shinam, who’s known as the “reigning goddess” who passed a divine bow and arrows to her sons U Shynna and U Batiton.
“The boys played with these weapons and became skilled marksmen over time,” Kharmawphlang said.
That deep appreciation for archery is clear in the region and lives in every home. It’s also demonstrated in cultural ceremonies at birth and death, and represents ideas bigger than individuals.
“When a boy is born, a naming ceremony known as ‘ka jer ka thoh’ involves placing a bow and three arrows before the baby, indicating his role as a warrior and protector,” Kharmawphlang said. “The first arrow signifies his land, the second his clan and the third himself. Upon his death, the same bow is placed by the body. The weapon is preserved safely inside his home since his birth, while the arrows are shot into the sky to accompany his soul to the heavens.”
Archery is the national sport in Bhutan, which has sent archers to the Olympics since 1984. Bhutanese archers have yet to win a medal, and practice with both traditional bows made of bamboo and compound bows from the United States. Although some of the bows are traditional, the competitions are not.
Bhutanese archery exhibitions are more celebrations than competitions. The games mainly showcase the Bhutanese culture and way of life. The archers can drink before shooting, but when significant numbers of spectators are present, managers try to limit the archers’ alcohol intake for safety reasons. By starting the games with an indulgent theme, the Bhutanese make the games more celebratory.
The fun doesn’t stop there. The camaraderie continues in the actual game. “Each team usually has their own group of dancers and singers,” reports DW News Asia. “They serve not only to cheer for the team, but to distract their opponents through songs and dances; by standing around the target and making fun of the shooter’s ability. Every time a target is hit, a kind of howling can be heard.”
These tournaments stress celebration, but not everyone is represented at the shooting line. Women have represented Bhutan at the Olympics, but they’re excluded from shooting in these traditional competitions at home. Olympic archer Dorji Dema wants to fix that. She plans to create an all-female team to compete next year. She has won countless medals and awards in international competitions, and wants to show the world that archery is for everyone.
Dema also competed at the Olympics while pregnant, and felt strong despite bouts of morning sickness. “Although the baby makes you physically weaker, your mind is stronger,” Dema told the BBC. “And the stronger your mind is, the less you shake.”
Bows and arrows symbolize various things in Turkish and Islamic culture. In the past, they were mostly symbols of power. When rulers corresponded with each other, they delivered messages wrapped around an arrow. In addition, Turkish people often walked around with bows and arrows at all times. Arrows also symbolized friendship. Because arrows were considered powerful, gifting one showed that you trusted the person not to harm you with it.
The design of traditional Turkish bows also represents power. The “zihgir,” a type of thumb ring, symbolizes that the person shooting the bow is a warrior. The bows also have a “mandal” grip that keeps the arrow in place during movement. That’s incredibly helpful in horseback archery, which was (and remains) popular in Asia. The curvature of traditional Turkish bows is extreme and creates the letter “C” when unstrung.
Archery’s beauty and power is represented physically and spiritually in this region. Its practice remains important in Islamic culture, which explicitly instructs followers to teach their children archery.
“The one who makes the arrow, the one who presents the arrow, and the one who shoots the arrow are destined for paradise,” they’re told. With religious ties so strong, Turkish craftsmen take great pride in making bows.
Archery has long been enjoyed around the globe, and each region celebrates its religious and cultural ties to the sport. These countries and cultures view archery as a universal joy that everyone should experience.