The history of archery in India is quite evident from the two great epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Though highly prized at one time and long considered an ultimate sport, archery in the region is now limited to rural areas.
In Shillong, Meghalaya as well as other interior parts of the Northeastern states, archery and gambling go hand in hand. There is a game called ‘Bola’ in Meghalaya where a large number of residents gather to bet on their much-loved archers. The game is held daily for two hours with two rounds, where archers aim for the perfect shot.
In the midst of the hustle bustle is Abortion Rynjah, a 55 year old. Hailing from a small village in Meghalaya, Rynjah is one of the dying breeds of traditional arrow makers. Using thin bamboo reeds along with kite feathers to stabalise the vanes, he makes 20 pieces a day. “Most of my customers are ex-army personal across India. By selling these arrows I make around Rs.100 (USD 2.5) everyday. Each piece requires special attention and fine tuning with care,” says Rynjah as he deftly prepared an arrow that could be a gambler’s lucky charm. – Text and photos by Pal Pillai
Pal Pillai is an Indian photojournalist based in Mumbai.