Gun and arrow competition, Lhasa

Gun and arrow competition, Lhasa

1998.285.417 (Glass negative)

Image for comparison


Raw Image

Key Information


Rabden Lepcha?


Sir Charles Bell

Date of Photo

March 5th 1921


Lhasa > Lhalu

Accession number


Image Dimensions

120 x 163 mm

Competitors and spectators in the gun and arrow competition of 'Gallop behind the Fort' or Dzonggyap shambe festival held on 5th March 1921

Further Information

Photographic Process

Negative glass plate gelatin , Negative Half Plate

Date Acquired

Donated 1983

Donated by

St Antony's College, Oxford.

Copy difference

Copy Neg


Sir Charles Bell's Mission to Lhasa 1920-21

Photo also owned by

Royal Central Asiatic Society

Revised Photographer

Not Bell

Previous Catologue Number


Previous Pitt Rivers Museum Number


Manual Catalogues -

Manual Catalogues - Bell's List of Illustrations entry: "[No. of chapter] XXVII. [Subject of Chapter] Amusements [Subject of Illustration] H.389-54 (dg) Competitors and spectators in the gun and arrow competition in the New Year at Lhasa."

Other Information - Dates

Other Information - Dates: This image seems to have been taken at the 'Gallop behind the Fort' [Dzong-gyap tzel-gyu] competition held on 5th March 1921 according to Bell's diary for this date [MS 25/6/2004]

Other Information - Description: Bell's diary entry for 5th March 1921: " Today, 5th March, we attended the festival, known colloquially as 'The gallop behind the Fort (Dzong-gyap Sham-be) and in literary language as 'The Race Exercise behind the Fort' (Dzong-gyap tzel-gyu). It is held at some distance behind the Potala - whence the name - and near the Lhalu mansion. //There are several tents on the plain, coloured prettily in blue and white according to the usual designs. And many gaily coloured umbrellas, several of them bright red, under which the presiding genius stores her cakes and biscuits and her oranges from Sikkim and Bhutan. Also a crowd of several thousand people, the women in their best dresses and all in the best of humour. At present there is no trace of drunkenness, but the Tsendron has no hesitation in assuring me that by the evening this last condition will be changed. And so it is, for meeting the returning parties in the late afternoon, Kennedy finds many who are drunk, though none who are ill-humoured or quarrelsome. We are give a tent to the right of the large one occupied by the Shappes and Dukes (Kung), our tent being in the place occupied by the Chinese Amban, whenever he used to attend these sports. // Each horseman starts galloping down a narrow track like a shallow ditch, with his flint-lock gun and his bow and arrows slung over his shoulders. Pulling forward his gun loaded with powder he fires it at a few feet distance at a disc, about one foot in diameter, with a red centre and a white rim. It is suspended five feet from the ground from a yak-hair rope strung on poles. Still galloping, our friend pushes back th egun and pulls forward his bow and arrow, shooting this as he passes within a few feet of another similar target some eighty yards from the first. Those who do well are allowed to go by without remark but those who fail are greeted with laugher by the crowd and jeers of 'A-le den-dre" "Bah! That Kind!" // When each detachment has finished, the men come in front of the Shappes. One of the Govt Treasurers presents them each with a khata, the name of each competitor being read out by a lesser official. In attendance also are four or five other officers of rank, who started their official careers as dancing boys (kar-thru) performing at the Dalai Lama's New Year Reception (see diary of early February last) now that they are grown up, they hold minor posts under the Govt. One of the dancing boys, still a dancing boy, stands in front of the competitors, holding a silver cup full of barley beer. After receiving his khata, each man dips the thumb and third finger of his right hand in the beer and jerks a drop or two on the ground as an oblation to the deity. The third finger is considered the cleanest, because Tibetans say that children are often born with this finger inside their mouths. // The competitors and the scarf-giving officials now cross to the other side of the Shappes' tent, where a second khata is given to each competitor. One khata is for the gun shot, the other for the arrow. The horsemen then retire a few paces and give the old Mongolian salute. Each raises his right arm to the height of his shoulder, gives it a horizontal sweep backwards and then brings it forward and downwards towards his knees. They then move off and a fresh contingent takes the field. // The horsemen are said to represent those of Kesar's time, but their heads, the two Ya-sos, represent Mongol princes. The competition itself is said to be of Mongolian origin, as well as the salute just described. It would seem that when Gusri Khan, the Mongolian chief, and the 5th Dalai Lama introduced these games, they followed in the main Mongolian custom. // Kesar, so says the Tsendron, was a king in Manghkam in Eastern Tibet.// Each competitor, as mentioned above, receives two khatas. This is an auspicious sign (tem-dre). But, when they reach their master's home in the country, the difference between success and failure is not ignored in the day's feasting that follows. Those who have done well receive money presents of 10 to 20 tangkas each (3 to 6 shillings), pieces of silk and tea. Those who have failed get little or nothing, are doled out their food in markedly poor vessels, and are jeered by their fellows. Anybody who lets his bow, gun etc. fall to the ground during the sports, has to stand a drink of beer all round, a penalty imposed by his fellow competitors. // In the forenoon the horsemen of the right flank compete, in the afternoon those of the left. Dorings troop is the first to compete among those of the right flank, for Doring Pandita was the first layman to hold the position of Regent of Tibet during the time of the Dalai Lamas. His Regency was during the time of the 7th Dalai Lama. His troop performs even before those of the Shappes; next after him, two of the Shappes contingents show their prowess, the contingents of the Kalon Lama and Tsarong. // Similarly, of the left flank Sam-trup Photrang' troop is the first to show its skill, for his family descended from the father of the seventh Dalai Lama, is the oldest of the Yap-shi families, ie: those descended from the father of a Dalai Lama. After him Kimsangtse and Trimon, the two remaining Shappes send out their men. The Samtrup Photrang mansion in Lhasa was built and occupied by Gusri Khan. Its meaning is 'The Palace of the Fulfilled Purpose". // After lunch the merriment increases, songs break out among the crowds, and some even of the competitors, who make good shots, wave their arms and give shouts of triumph. // To the right of the Shappes' tent (in which Dukes (Kung), Dzasas and Techis are also seated) and at right angles to it, sit lesser officials in the open. With them are seated the teachers and students in the Tsi-khang, the college in which boys are trained for lay (as opposed to ecclesiastical) service under government. // We leave between 3 and 4pm and are followed as usual by a crowd" [Diary vol. ix pp. 21-27]

For Citation use:
The Tibet Album. "Gun and arrow competition, Lhasa" 05 Dec. 2006. The Pitt Rivers Museum. <>.

For more information about photographic usage or to order prints, please visit the The Pitt Rivers Museum.

© The Pitt Rivers Museum