Exercising and trying to keep oneself in good shape, as it might seem, is not a recent concept tied to modern life. Pahlavani and Zoorkhanei Rituals that dates back to 2000 years ago in Persia, is in fact the oldest body building sport in the world. According to a research that German Sport University Cologne carried out.
Pahlavani and zoorkhanei Rituals are a set of gymnastic and callisthenic movements a group of athletes practice using different instruments or without them.
The instruments they use in this sport actually symbolize real ancient weapons that they utilize them only as weights now. First of all, each session starts with using the tools which are called Meel, Cabbadeh(Kaman) and Sang. They respectively resemble a mace, a bow and a shield.
It follows with other movements that are called Charkh Zadan(spinning), Sheno raftan (push up) and Pa Zadan (leg movements). And last but not least, each sessions ends up with Koshti (traditional wrestling).
During Pahlavani and zoorkhanei Rituals, the sportsmen (warriors) originally wore a traditional clothing called lowng. Then it gradually almost changed into skinny short pants with traditional patterns on them along with a T-shirt.
Definitely what distinguishes Pahlavani and zoorkhanei Rituals from other sports, is the focus it has on ethics and spiritual enhancing. Each Zoorkhaneh (house of strength), where they perform the rituals, has a Morshed (master) that recites poems with the thyme of humility, humbleness, modesty, chivalry, generosity, forgiveness and other nice morals. And of course along with victory, bravery, valiancy and power contents. These poems are from a variety of poets specially Ferdowsi, the epic writer of Shahnameh (stories of kings). Morshed sings while drumming (Zarb) and also ringing a small bell (Zang) once in a while, which each time has a conventional distinct meaning. The athletes practice their movements to the rhythmic drum beats. While Miandar (leader) sits in the middle of Goad (the field) and other athletes, to help synchronizing the movements.
History and Origin
As mentioned before Pahlavani and zoorkhanei Rituals origins from warrior trainings during Parthian era about 2000 years ago. At that time Mithraism (worshiping the sun) flourished and there are several evidence that shows “zoorkhaneh” is quite similar to Mithraism temples in architecture and concept. Considering the underground space, the short gate and the focus on the center with the audience around the field.
After Islam, Pahlavani and zoorkhanei Rituals had its golden period during Qajar era (1789-1925). When every year on Nowruz (Persian new year’s day), They used to hold a championship and the king would honor the winner with a bazoo band (armlet) as a sign for being the national hero.
Obviously Pahlavani and zoorkhanei Rituals has changed in forms and objectives throughout centuries. It has adjusted to different religions and philosophies as Mithraism, Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, Sufism and Islam considering the fact that morals and ethical values are indeed always the same. Today the role model in Iranian Zoorhkaneh is Imam Ali, the first Imam (leader) of Shea Muslims. There are drawings of him on the walls and “Morshed” sings poems about his strength, enriched soul and nice manners
Zoorkhaneh and Society
The athletes of Pahlavani and zoorkhanei Rituals are called Pahlavan (hero) that again has Parthian roots. It means a person who is strong not only on the outside but also on the inside. Pooria-ye-vali, Razaz and Takhti are the most famous and admired “Pahlavans” in Iran. Today this sport has 9 stages each with particular privileges. An athlete who has practiced it for more than 34 years has the highest rank and is called Pishkesvat (dean). He is highly respected by other athletes and has a wide influence on them. He guides them how to enrich their body and souls. Clearly the athletes evolve as a union which leads to social improvements. “Zoorkkhaneh” plays a central role in a community. “Pahlavans” and “Pishkesvats” always help the poor and contribute to solving local problems. Specially by holding matches to raise fund for those in need in the neighborhood (Golrizan).
Fortunately, nowadays Pahlavani and zoorkhanei Rituals are still alive in Iran. It has a federation and there are currently almost 500 active “Zoorkhanehs” across the country. The most important one is Shahid Fahmideh Zoorkhaneh that is open for visit and the national championships are held there. A world federation (IZSF) also exists with 72 country members. And the most noteworthy, Pahlavani and zoorkhanei Rituals was inscribed on UNESCO list as Iran’s Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2010.