What is Zoorkhaneh? Varzeshe Zoorkhaneyi and Pahlavani wrestling (its official UNESCO name, Pahlavani and Zoorkhaneh Rituals) are two elements from Iran’s ancient sports which train the soul and body of the athlete, and in fact the purpose of this sport is training Pahlavan (a gallant sportsman); someone who is the symbol for morality, gallantry, and having a strong constitution; but other sports generally only tend to the body of the athlete. In this article, Irantrawell will talk about a sport that trains champions who despite being very strong, only use it for the good of humanity.
The History of Iran’s Ancient Sport Compared to the World
The history of sports and holding sport events is not very well cleared. In some parts, Iran’s sports are older than Greek ones.
In ancient Greece, the Olympic games included running, wrestling, boxing, horse riding, carriage riding, and etc. But in Iran, in addition to the fact that some of these sports are older, other sports such as archery, sailing, horse riding and polo were prevalent.
READ MORE ABOUT POLO GAME HERE
Among the Eastern countries, Iran was undoubtedly the only country which gave prominence in its training and education system to exercise and physical education. Iranians had figured out the importance and value of physical health, as an important tool in creating a chivalrous and victorious army.
Herodotus, well-known Greek historian, wrote, “Iranians learn from the age of five to twenty these three things; riding, archery, and honesty.”
As it was mentioned earlier, Iranian have been into martial arts for long, and one of their greater aims in Pahlevani and martial exercises was to ready themselves for wrestling and one on one fighting, and there are stories such as Rostam’s fight with white devil, Rostam and Sohrab wrestling, one on one fight of Bahram with Koot (Roman warlord), and also other stories that are inherent in common narratives such as Darab Nameh, Samak Ayyar, Hossein Kurd, and other such stories, all indicate that being a Pahlevan holds a very high regard among Iranians.
Due to the fact that past people of Iran used to give high priority to physical strength to overcome enemies in battles, this sport is of special value and was among the routine activities of men, and the training of soul and body which is the motto of this sport, can be seen in its customs and rituals, and any viewer who steps in to watch such rituals, instantly becomes attracted. One of the most unique experiences while traveling to Iran, is visiting Iranian Zoorkhanehs. Zoorkhane is a traditional space with Iranian architecture, to which people still send their kids to train them regarding body and mind.
Maybe after the Mongol invasion and banning the use of military equipment made Iranians, who used to engage in fights with real weapons like swords, staffs, shields, and bows, to take refuge in the Zoorkhaneh and with a replica of these weapons keep up their physical strength. And so, Zoorkhaneh is the symbol of people’s defiance against cruelty, and this made Zoorkhane athletes into popular figures among people. There are many myths and narratives about these athletes in Iranian books. Pourya-ye Vali is one of the most important and biggest of such champions, who is a symbol of the people who use the power of the arms and mind for others’ security and liberty.
Unique Characteristics of Zoorkhaneh Rituals
Zoorkhaneh Rituals used be performed along with Persian traditional music and with the use of percussion instruments they used to give rhythm and order to this sport. The rhythm of Zoorkhaneh (which is usually achieved through Iranian drum) is composed by the superior at the Zoorkhaneh and athletes by asking for permission from forerunners, the superior and audience touch their right hand to the arena of Zoorkhaneh and kiss it and by paying respect to this holy arena, to revitalize their body and mind strength enter the arena and with the sound made by the superior engage in exercising.
This ancient sport has at its every corner a trace of ancient Iranian culture. The clothes worn by the athletes in this sport is the manifestation of Iran’s art and culture, which has been perfected through a number of centuries with respect to beauty and artistic element. The symbols seen in this clothes are themselves the manifestation of the culture and beliefs of the owners of them, for example the leaning cypress or orange tree are the symbols of tallness and at the same time humbleness.
The architecture of Zoorkhanehs in Iran is absolutely unique and is exactly all about the outlook this sport has toward the world. Paying attention to physical strength as well as humbleness can be from the entrance door to the corridors leading to the center of the arena. The entrance door is usually small and suited only for one person, and athletes and others should enter through it one by one with a head leaning down which diminishes your sense of ego, and the simple and earnest space of the Zoorkhaneh reminds you that there is no place for being snobby and pretending, the dome like shape and hole of the arena attracts the attention of everyone to it, and reminds everyone of this point that only arena and actions matter not words and standing by.
Ali Gholi Agha Zoorkhaneh in Isfahan is one of the active Zoorkhanehs in the city of Isfahan which accepts athletes and tourists.
Last Words About Zoorkhaneh Rituals
Zoorkhaneh is an inseparable part of Iranian old neighborhoods and keeps within it alive a part of Iranian culture, and hence the experience of visiting a Zoorkhaneh is unique and pleasant. All the equipment used by the athletes, their clothes, the architecture of the structure, the poems, the tunes that is composed inside the Zoorkhaneh, all of them are the heritage of Iran.