Dadar Arrow Scarf

Category: Religion

Bhutanese homes usually have a shrine room in which a common artefact one finds is an arrow with scarves of five colours attached to it called the dadar (མདའ་དར་). The ceremonial arrow is used for the rituals of gathering and enhancing long life and wealth. The officiant of these rituals would wave the dadar in the air while chanting the verses for the ritual, and bless the devotees by placing the arrow on their heads. As the arrow with scarves is often used for increasing the longevity of a person, it is also sometimes called tshedar (ཚེ་དར་) or longevity arrow. The use of the arrow most likely originated in the Pre-Buddhist Bon tradition of Tibet and was integrated into Buddhist practice, like many other cultural practices and artefacts. In the Pre-Buddhist spiritual belief, the arrow is a symbol of masculine power just as the spindle is a representation of the feminine power.

The arrow is made from a special bamboo which is straight and sturdy. It is often a bamboo which is collected from a holy site and the holy mountain of Tsari is the most well known source of such bamboo. Unlike the bamboo for archery, the bamboo for dadar is thicker and would normally have three nodes. The bamboo is painted red and threads of five colour are tied around in layers just below the nock and above the feathers. The feathers of a vulture are preferred for feathering the arrow. In some places, the dadar does not have a single nock but five stick heads which are made separately and stuck to the bamboo. The dadar in some cases is also empowered by inserting mantras and substances of power near its head. A metal tip is added to the end of the arrow. Scarves of five colours and a mirror is attached to the arrow above the feather and below the nock. The arrow is then placed in a stand which is also a box decorated with painting.

During religious rituals such as the ceremony to give bestow empowerment of life or tshewang (ཚེ་དབང་) and gathering of long life and wealth or tshegug yangug (ཚེ་འགུག་གཡང་འགུག་), the priest holds the arrow near its tip and waves the arrow letting the scarves fly in a swirling motion. The arrow with scarf is used as an implement to attract the essence of longevity and wealth. To signify the bestowal of such essence, the arrow with scarf is gently placed on the head of the devotees who attend such a ceremony.

Mipham Namgyal Gyatsho, a nineteenth-century polymath and great Tibetan master describes the symbolism of the dadar and its parts in the following verses.





།དུག་ལྔ་གནོན་པའི་རྟེན་འབྲེལ་ཡོད།  །

This dadar endowed with all auspicious conditions, a bamboo from holy sites with five heads symbolizes the five families of the Buddhas, and holds the auspices to suppress the five poisons.



།འཆི་མེད་ཚེ་ཡི་རྟེན་འབྲེལ་ཡོད།  །

The arrow body which has three nodes symbolize the three Buddhas of longevity, and holds auspices for longevity and immortality.



།ཚེ་སྲོག་སྲ་བའི་རྟེན་འབྲེལ་ཡོད།  །

The tip of the arrow being adorned with hard iron symbolize valour, vigour and courage, and holds auspices for stable life and life force.


།མངའ་ཐང་དགུང་དང་མཉམ་པའི་བརྡ།  །

The nock of the arrow rising towards the zenith is sign of one’s power becoming as high as the zenith.



།མཁའ་འགྲོ་སྡེ་ལྔས་སྲུང་བར་མཚོན།  །

The adornment with silk scarves of colours symbolizes the character of the people to be as soft as silk and the protection by the five kinds of ḍakiṇi spiritual beings. 



།ལམ་སྣ་བསུ་བའི་རྟེན་འབྲེལ་ཡོད།  །

The ornamentation with feathers of a vulture indicates the heroic nature of people and holds the auspices of being well received on the path.



།ལས་བཞི་འགྲུབ་པའི་རྟེན་འབྲེལ་ཡོད།  །

The decoration with a hard iron tip symbolizes the protector deities, and holds auspices of accomplishing the four activities.




།སྲུང་བའི་རྟེན་འབྲེལ་མ་ཚང་མེད།  །

The mirror on the arrow indicate the auspices of being protected by the nine mewa, eight parkha and twelve lokhor animal powers.




།མི་ནོར་ཟས་གསུམ་འཛོམས་པའི་བརྡ།  །

The ornaments of crystal, turquoise and shell symbolize being protected by gods, ngen and naga spirits and of possessing people, food and cattle.


།འབྱུང་བཞིའི་བཅུད་གཡང་འགུག་པར་མཚོན།  །

Being decorated with varieties of jewels symbolizes the attraction of the essences of the four elements.







།བདེ་སྐྱིད་ཕུན་སུམས་ཚོགས་པར་ཤོག  །།

This is life-arrow to attract longevity and wealth. This is divine arrow of the heroes and ḍakiṇis. This is lah-arrow of the protector deities. This is the relic-arrow which attracts the dralha war gods. This has auspiciousness for the charisma to rise. This has auspiciousness for the merits to flourish. May peace and happiness prevail in abundance. 


Dr. Karma Phuntsho:  is a social thinker and worker, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of many books and articles including  The History of Bhutan.

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