Zurkhaneh in Iran

  • Dec 21, 2019

History of origin of Zurkhaneh

Zurkhane was first mentioned in the Safavid era in the 17th century by traveler John Chardin. In his diary, he described a house of power where people from the lower caste organized wrestling. Similar houses were in every city, in the houses of shahs and provincial governors.

It is difficult to indicate how old zurkhaneh is, but one thing is clear that traditional sports existed long before the European traveler wrote about it. It is assumed that zurkhaneh existed in pre-Islamic times. Rituals  of zurkhaneh and the place itself were compared with the temple of the god Mitra, while assuming the connection of the sports arenas with mitrism. Zurkhaneh is considered one of the oldest sports and it was registered in the List of the spiritual heritage of UNESCO.

Traditional zurkhaneh wrestling

Performances are held in a special building. Traditionally, Zurkhaneh was near the city bathhouse and resembled a bathhouse in shape. The arena was located on the lower basement floor in order to maintain a constant temperature. The main door was below the average height so that the man, stepping over the doorstep, bowed. The pit for training in hexagonal form is located in the center. The pit was to a depth of one meter, the floor was covered with brushwood, ash and covered with final layer of clay. Now the floor of the pit is covered with boards or linoleum.

The pit is surrounded by tribunes for spectators, stands for sports equipment and portraits of famous athletes of Zurkhaneh. Besides of athletes that played leading role in Zurkhaneh, there was also a man who read the poems of Firdausi, Hafiz, Saadi and special poems for Zurkhaneh accompanied by the drums. The place of the reader was called sardam.

The activities of Zurkhaneh are quite interesting. The process is guided by a more experienced athlete. The first part is the warm-up workout: the athlete lays on his back and raises wooden shields. During warm-up, the mentor reads the couplet:

For every work, say “In the Name of God,
To get forgiveness for all your sins.
When you take the handle of the shield,
Say, “All power and might is with God.”

During the session athletes use different ammunition such as maces and bow. Exercises are mostly held in groups, but there is also an individual exercise called “rotation”. Athletes alternately, starting with the youngest begin to exercise. The fact that the elders give way to the young is quite interesting, because according to the rules of etiquette, the elders are respected and always inferior in Iran. And finally, the warm-up and training ends with a traditional wrestling. The athlete’s quality should not only be strength, but also a pure heart, integrity and desire to help those in need. Training is strictly forbidden to women, children and non-Muslims.

The most spectacular view of Zurkhaneh is the final performance of two athletes, who are holding their sticks over their heads and begin to spin, while spectators throw money at their feet.

Where traditional Zurkhaneh is performed?

If you are in Tehran and want to watch the performance you should definitely visit Zurkhaneh Ayatollah Telegani in Tehran located on Neda Square.

In each city of Iran there is a traditional Zurkhaneh. It is also worthwhile to visit Zurkhaneh Saheb-e Zaman in Yazd, on the Amir-Chahmag square.