Traditional sports – A pastime of the past

In the face of an explosion of modern games, thanks largely to cable TV, Bhutan’s traditional sports – despite the government’s pledge to promote them – are on the brink of extinction.

Traditional games, such as soksom, degor, jigdum and pungdo, are barely heard of, let alone played. The only ones surviving the onslaught of changing times are archery and khuru. Archery exists because there is a heavy dose of modernism in its equipment and status. People rarely play archery without imported bows and arrows these days. That way, observers say, the sport is becoming more modern and less Bhutanese.

Just in case you didn’t know …
1. Sheray paray is a man’s game, where one player grips his opponent’s wrist while the latter tries to shake off the grip. If the gripper manages to hold on, he wins. But if he is shaken off, he loses the game.2. Langthab or bullfight is a game of brute strength where two opponents get into a head-on challenge and butt each other into submission.

3. Jigdum is a game, where a foot-long sharp-ended piece of wood is thrown at a target. There are two types of jigdum – one played with straight piece of wood and the other played with a two-pronged piece of wood.

4. Degor, involves throwing a pair of flat stones at targets about 20 metres apart. The target is a small stick nailed into the ground. If the stone falls within the length between thumb and middle finger of an outstretched palm from the target, one gets a point.

5. Khuru is a dart game played with targets set 20 metres apart.

6. Archery is played with hand-made bows and arrows made of bamboo. Two targets are placed at a distance of 130 metres apart. 7. Pungdo is the equivalent of shot put.

8. Keshey is similar to the sumo wrestling.


Names of some traditional Bhutanese sports are already out of the vocabulary of the younger generation. It is especially so in towns.

“In my village, apart from modern sports, khuru and archery are played but only on a few occasions, like losar, but traditional games such as jigdum, sheray paray, pungdo, khuru, degor, which used to be a hit before on every occasion, are no longer seen, or even played,” said Gyeltshen, a farmer from Wangduephodrang. “Very few play with traditional bows; most have compound bows and arrows.”

The culture department’s secretary, Dasho Sangay Wangchuk, said: “Since there are organisations and federations handling different sports, traditional games was not looked at as a different area so they’ve been left out.” He said that modern sports are more exciting and competitive than traditional ones and that could be the reason why traditional sports were dying out. He said that it was a big challenge to keep the tradition alive with the changing times.

Dasho Sangay Wangchuk said that, if the traditional equipment was made more appealing and also if the people were made to play traditional sports during occasions, it would breathe some life into it.

Khuru and degor are generally associated with monks in dratshangs. A national cricketer, Phuntsho Wangdi, said that today these games were hardly played by students and monks. They would rather play snooker or carroms, he said.

Meanwhile, while our youth watch the wrestling and boxing matches on television, the traditional keshay is seen only during special occasions like national day.

The government has also not allocated a separate budget for the development of these sports, say observers.

By: Tandin Wangchuk
Source: Kuenselonline

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