Zurkhaneh or Pahlevani (Iran)

Zurkhaneh or Pahlevani (Iran)

  • Name of sport (game): Zurkhaneh, Zurxane, Zoorkhaneh, Zoorkhanei
  • Name in native language: varzesh-e pahlavāni (Persian: آیین پهلوانی و زورخانه‌ای‎, "heroic sport") or varzesh-e bāstāni (ورزش باستانی; varzeš-e bāstānī, "ancient sport")
  • Place of practice (continent, state, nation):

    Part of Asia (Iran and adjacent lands, Azerbaijan)

  • History:

    Traditional Iranian wrestling (koshti) dates back to ancient Persia and was said to have been practiced by Rustam, mythological Iranian hero of the Shahnameh epic. While folk styles were practiced for sport by every ethnic group in various provinces, grappling for combat was considered the particular specialty of the zourkhāneh. The original purpose of these institutions was to train men as warriors and instill them with a sense of national pride in anticipation for the coming battles. The Mithrāic design and rituals of these academies bear testament to its Parthian origin (132 BC - 226 AD). The zourkhaneh system of training is what is now known as varzesh-e bastani, and its particular form of wrestling was called koshti pahlevani, after the Parthian word pahlevan meaning hero.
    When the Arabs invaded Persia around 637 CE, the zourkhānehs (training places) served as secret meeting places where knights would train and keep alive a spirit of solidarity and patriotism. Invaders repeatedly targeted the houses of strength to discourage rebels, but new ones would always be organized in a different location. Following the spread of Shia Islam, and particularly after the development of Sufism in the 8th century, varzesh-e pahlavani absorbed philosophical and spiritual components from it. Religious hymns were incorporated into training, and the first Shi'ite imam Ali was adopted as the zourkhāneh patron.
    Varzesh-e bastani was particularly popular in the 19th century, during the reign of the Qajar king Nāser al-Din Shāh Qājār (1848–1896). Every 21 March on Nowruz (the Iranian new year), competitions would be held in the shah's court, and the shah himself would present the champion with an armlet (bazoo-band). The sport declined following the rise of the Pahlavi dynasty in the 1920s and the subsequent modernisation campaigns of Reza Shah, who saw the sport as a relic of Qajarite ritual. Reza Shah's son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi took a different approach, emphasizing Iran's ancient Persian roots as an alternative to the heavily Islam-based identity of less developed nations in the Middle East. He attempted to revive the tradition and practiced it himself, and during his reign, the last national competitions were held.
    Following the Iranian Revolution of 1979 the tradition lost some of its popularity as the new regime discouraged anything tied to pre-Islamic paganism, which included the Gnostic and Mithraic chants and rituals of the zourkhāneh. This did not last, however, as the Islamic Republic eventually promoted varzesh-e bastani as a symbol of Iranian pride and culture. Today, varzesh-e pahlavāni is touted as the reason why Iranians are regular winners at international wrestling and weight-lifting events.
    Zurkhaneh combines martial arts, calisthenics, strength training and music. Recognized by UNESCO as the world's longest-running form of such training, it fuses elements of pre-Islamic Persian culture (particularly Zoroastrianism, Mithraism and Gnosticism) with the spirituality of Shia Islam and sufism. Practiced in a domed structure called the zurkhāneh, training sessions consist mainly of ritual gymnastic movements and climax with the core of combat practice, a form of submission-grappling called koshti pahlavāni.

    Bargirs kettlebells of Zorkhana Middle Ages Museum of History of Azerbaijan
    Bargirs - kettlebells of Zorkhana. Middle Ages. Museum of History of Azerbaijan.


  • Description:

    Both seniors and youth can take part in the competition in various weight categories, individually or in teams. Each team consists of 10 members:
    - From 5 to 7 athletes,
    - One “Master of Ceremonies”, who among others hits the gong,
    - One trainer,
    - One team captain.
    In case when the team consists of more than 5 athletes, 0,1% of the 6th and 7th member’s score is going to be added to the final score of the team.
    Individual competition consist of seven disciplines:
    - Sang gereftan,
    - Kabbadeh,
    - Meel Bazy,
    - Charkhidan Whirling: Charkz Teez – Charkz Charmani Charkh tak fer,
    - Shelang takhteh
    - Professional Meel giri.
    Apart from the aforementioned disciplines, there are also wrestling competition being organized in four different weight categories( 60-70kg, 70-80kg, 80-90kg and >90kg).
    To calculate total score gained by each team, the following rules are used:


    Team competion

    Individual competition


    Team with 7 members

    Team with 6 members

    Team with 5 members

    Sang gereftan, Kabbadeh, Meel giri, Charkh Teez - Charkh Chamani,  Meel Bazy

    60-70 kg, 70-80 kg, 80-90 kg, >90 kg





    10 points for each discipline

    10 points for each weight category





    9 points for each discipline

    9 points for each weight category





    8 points for each discipline

    8 points for each weight category





    7 points for each discipline

    7 points for each weight category





    6 points for each discipline

    6 points for each weight category





    5 points for each discipline

    5 points for each weight category





    4 points for each discipline

    4 points for each weight category





    3 points for each discipline

    3 points for each weight category





    2 points for each discipline

    2 points for each weight category





    1 point for each discipline

    1 point for each weight category

    Excercise zurkhaneh

    Zurkhaneh equipments and terms in Iranian Varzesh-e-Bastani (source: :
    1- Varzesh-e-Bastani (ancient sport): Is a comprehensive physical exercise session of 60 to 90 minutes, consisting of different kinds of physical activities appropriate for the age groups of 16 to 60-70 years old. These exercises were practiced under special customs and rituals established over hundreds of years. Each session of Varzesh-e-Bastani comprises: Warming up, main body of physical exercises, and warming down.
    2- Zurkhaneh (home of strength): Is the very specially designed physical Structure, entangling, a myriad of philosophical, religious, cultural and educational Bases, together with the necessary technical facilities and apparatus for the cultivation of the body and the excellence of mind. The entrance door is low so that body of any walk of life at the time of entrance must of necessity bow in respect and enters this sacred place.
    3- Bastanikar: Is everybody who practices Varzesh-e-Bastani and possesses a number of outstanding physical and spiritual traits and characteristics.
    4- Pahlevan: Is the first champion among other bastanikars of a village, city, Province, country or the world of the time. This title was awarded only to athletes who were recognized as having had reached perfection in the qualities of both physical Prowess and moral virtue. The significance of Pahlevanship has been well resented in the Farsi language literature and culture. As an example, Ferdowsi, in his outstanding poetic book (Shahnameh), pictures Rostam, the Persian legendary Pahlevan, fighting heroically against depravity, vice, and sinful deeds and thoughts in the purest and most literary forms in the tenth century. Pahlevanship exists in daily life of the Zurkhaneh athletes, the most recognized tradition, Golrizan, happens when someone has a financial problem. In such a case after the Morshed bell the ring (Zang) anybody who wants to help, put the money in the special pot during this traditional charity ceremony.
    In each Varzesh-e-Bastani session, the Morshed accompanies all the exercises with chanting the epics and poems that describe the braveries and heavenly prowess and heroism of these Pahlevans for the good of the human beings.
    5- Gowd: Is the most significant facility where all the activities of the Varzesh-e-Bastani are performed. The floor of the pit is constructed with different layers of, from bottom to top, crushed tumble weeds, a thinner cushion of dried fine straw, a thicker layer of coal ash and finally, a well packed layer of clay or argil in a way to assure softness and flexibility needed for the safety of the Bastanikars during their physical activities. The Khadem (janitor) of the Zurkhaneh makes regularly sure that this floor is sufficiently well packed and humid before the start of every session. To eliminate the detrimental effects of dust and humidity, especially in an indoor and relatively small space such as the Zurkhaneh, the methods of construction of Gowd’s floor are rapidly approaching the ones used in constructing the other sport activities areas like the contemporary running or playing fields.
    6- Morshed: Is an experienced Bastanikars who, at the same time, is a well-educated man who also has some talents in music. He is especially competent in providing the different rhythms that are needed for directing the various exercises of a Varzesh-e-Bastani practice session. He does this job by chanting the epic poems and couplets and by playing the Zarb and Zang that he has at hand. Some times there are two Morsheds who in harmony with each other direct the practice session.
    7- Zarb: Is a large hemispheric wooden drum, with a skin of deer, stretched over the larger end of it. Zarb is used to give the Indispensable rhythm and cadence for all the exercises through-out the session.
    8- Zang: Zang is a bell that hangs within reach of Morshed’s hand. Morshed will play the Zang for purposes such as signal the beginning or the end of an exercise, attract the attention for making an announcement, honor the presence of a Pahlevan, guest, or a social personality and communicate with the Miandar and the other athletes who are performing in the Gowd.
    9- Miandar: Miandar performs at the central part of the Gowd. He is the key person and leader of session.
    10- Pishkesvat: Is a Bastanikar, who is characterized by a high degree of expertise, experience and seniority. He also assumes the responsibility of teaching the techniques of Varzesh-e-Bastani to younger Bastanikars.
    12- Nocheh or Nokhasteh: Is a beginner (novice) in Varzesh-e-Bastani. He is ordinarily under the direction and the apprenticeship of a Pishkesvat. This is the lowest rank in the hierarchy of Varzesh-e-Bastani. The highest rank in Zurkhaneh is Saheb-e Taj (owner of the crown). It is noticeable that the one who is the first to start each one of the individual exercises is the Nocheh who is at the bottom line in seniority. The last athlete who will finish the exercise bout in the individual events is the Miandar.
    13- Sar-Dam: Sar means “place” and Dam refers to “speaking or chanting”. From the technical standpoint, this is the Morshed’s rostrum from where he leads the practice session by his chants, Zarb and Zang.
    14- Takhteh-Shena: Is a plank that is used for the different types of push up exercises particular to this traditional sport.
    15- Meel: Is a big chunk of hard and heavy wood related with the idea of using it somewhat like Indian clubs, however, it differs with them in a number of ways. First, its base is the largest part of it. Second, it is considerably longer, larger and heavier. Third, Meels are used primarily for weight training. Fourth, one pair of Meels is necessary for exercise in Varzesh-e-Bastani. Fifth, the handle of the Meel is a cylindrical piece of hard wood that is fixed very firmly on the top of the Meel.
    16- Kabbadeh: Is a bow shaped iron instrument used for weight training in Varzeshe-Bastani. On this instrument in Zoorkhaneh, the string has been replaced by a heavy chain which generally is made of 16 links. In each link there are approximately six metallic discs, each one measuring about the size of a small saucer. Kabbadehs weigh mostly between 11 to 50kg. This weight can be adjusted to athlete’s ability by removing or adding chain links or discs.
    17- Sang: Is a huge rectangular piece of hard wood that has some similarities with the ancient shields used to ward off blows or missiles. The side of the rectangular that is moved near the floor throughout the exercise is gently arched. There is a hole at the central part of each Sang with a bar across it that is used as a hand grip around this opening is covered by a soft material to protect the hand. Sangs are used for weight training and one pair of them is necessary for the exercise.
    18- Shelang-Takhteh: Is a plank of hard wood. This equipment is used for stretching exercises, muscular endurance and agility of the legs, aimed at running speed and endurance. This is a heavy exercise and 40 to 50 repetitions are considered to be a high performance in this event.
    19- Shalvar-e-Bastani: Is a knee-breeches pantaloon that is typical clothing for the Bastanikars. This clothing is made of either leader or of heavy embroidered cloth decorated with elaborate designs and scenes. The firmness and resistance of this kind of trousers make it possible for the athletes to use it as a dependable grip during traditional wrestling of Varzesh-e-Bastani.
    20- Kamarband: Is a large and heavy leader belt made especially for Shalvar-e-Bastani. This belt provides a more dependable grip for wrestling specific to Varzesh-e-Bastani.
    21- Koshti (Wrestling): Similar to the Sang and the Kabbadeh exercises, Koshti is an individual event that is performed in the Gowd only by a few Bastanicars who are scheduled for the exercise session. The type of Koshti that is performed in Zoorkhaneh looks much like the Greek style wrestling where only the upper body of the wrestler gets involved in the technical pinning and holds of the combat.

    Equipments and Instruments zurkhaneh

  • Current status:

    The sport is still being practised. International Zurkhaneh Sports Federation (IZSF), connecting 22 countries involved in the sport, spreads the knowledge of Zurkhaneh. It publishes the rules and broadcasts recent events. Apart from frequent trainings and unofficial games, the official competition (World championships, Europe championships, Asia championships, World Cup and many others) organized by federation, is being held every few months. Apart from the aforementioned competitions, there are also one held for senior, junior or disabled contestants.
    In recent years, Zurkhaneh is becoming more and more popular in countries neighbouring Iran, especially in Iraq or Afghanistan. The huge tournament took place in May 2017 in Baku within the framework of 4th Islamic Solidarity Games. Iran won the team competition category.

  • Contacts:

    International Zurkhaneh Sports Federation (IZSF)
    No 8, Sepidar St, Africa Ave, Tehran, I.R.IRAN Postal Code: 1518943865
    Tel :+98-21-88203115
    Fax :+98-21-88203314
    IZSC logo
    Asian Zurkhaneh Sports Confederation (AZSC)
    Tel : +82 51 245 5600
    FAX : +82 51 245 5700
    E-mail : This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
    Asian Zurkhaneh Sport Confederation logo

    Nepal Zurkhaneh Sport Association

    Nepal Zurkhaneh Sports Association logo

    Baltic Zurkhaneh Sports Federation
    Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

    Baltic Zurkhaneh Sports Federation


    Portugal Zurkhaneh Sports Association
    Portugal Zurkhaneh Sports Association logo


    Uganda Zurkhanes Sports Association

    uganda zurkhaneh sports association logo

    Zurkhaneh Sri Lanka

    Kenya Zurkhaneh Sports Federation

    Zurkhaneh Ferdousi München e.V. -


  • Sources of information :

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    Behmanesh, A., History: wrestling and myth in Iran. Olympic Review, 307, 209-211, 1993
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    Zurkhaneh -
    Zurkhaneh (article in Polish) -
    Pahlevani and Zoorkhaneh Rituals –
    Introducing Iranian Zoorkhaneh and Pahlevani traditions -
    ZUR-ḴĀNA, Encyclopaedia Iranica -
    Pahlevani and zoorkhaneh rituals -


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