The Polo Grounds in Shillong, the capital of the north-eastern state of Meghalaya, are the scene for the daily game of teer. Archery is one of the most popular indigenous sports and large sums of money are bet on the flight of an arrow. Being such an integral part of the local culture, teer plays a principal role in festivals as well.
Twice a day, 60 archers from the Khasi Hills assemble at the grounds in the centre of the town known as “the Scotland of the East” during the erstwhile British Raj. Each archer must belong to a club affiliated to the Khasi Hills Archery Sports Institute (KHASI) and arrows are differentiated by colour.
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In a semi-circular concrete base and tin-roofed structure, participants gather to shoot at a cylindrical target of tightly woven bamboo matting—about 2ft in diameter—mounted on a metal spike about 25m away.
Spectators and protagonists swathed in brightly coloured tartan shawls gather and sip steaming cups of tea while choosing from an array of home-made buns and cakes.
Using rudimentary wooden bows and arrows and assuming a squatting position, the archers despatch their arrows towards the target in rapid succession, seemingly without aim. But things looks serious: The first round at 3.30pm is of 4 minutes. The second—an hour later—lasts 3 minutes. During this time the archers fire 30 arrows and 20 arrows, respectively. Thus the maximum number of arrows which can be shot are 1,800 and 1,200.
In between rounds, archers amuse themselves and the audience by throwing large darts at a smaller, wine-bottle size bamboo target, and betting among themselves.
Bets take place on the last two digits of each round’s tally, that is, as many arrows as are embedded in the target at the end of the time allotted. So if 876 arrows hit the target, the winning numbers are 6 and 76.
As darkness falls, candles illuminate the fragile constructions serving as “on course” betting shops where winnings are collected. There are around 1,500 licensed teer counters in Meghalaya, and a few hundred illegal ones across the border in Assam and north Bengal.
British photographer Findlay Kember has been living and working in Delhi for the last 10 years. He is a photo editor for Agence France-Presse (AFP).