Wednesday, 9 January 2008

A visit to a Zurkhaneh(House of Strength)

'House of strength'

Bow shaped iron weights ( wall decorations of photos, shorts,
wooden shields and swordfish bones)

Heavily embroidered leather shorts

Calisthenics with Indian clubs (note modern embroidered trousers)

Painted miniatures of battle scenes on swordfish bone

We had a most unusual New Years Eve in Esfahan - we went to see Iranian Wrestling. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, but very interesting. We went to a Zurkhaneh ( literally 'House of Strength') to see a training session of practitioners of Varzesh-e Pahlavani ("Sport of the Heroes") a traditional martial art of Iran, which was originally an academy of physical training for military purposes. It combines elements of the pre-Islamic rituals of Zoroastrianism with the spirituality of Sufism. What we saw was gymnastic stretching exercises and calisthenics , using wooden clubs, and bow shaped iron weights. There was also some Sufi whirling and the strongest man lifted and manipulated two great wooden shields. According to Ian, it was based on training from Parthian times to develop the muscles and dexterity to deal with heavy armour and armoury.

This all took place in an octagonal pit to the sound of drumming and ritualistic chanting, the room decorated with photos of past masters (there were 2 of them present at the session ), decorated swordfish bones (don't quite know the significance-possibly strength ) and pairs of beautifully embroidered leather shorts. A few of the practitioners wore longer newer versions ( most wore the team shirt , joggers and a woven bath sheet similar to seen in Syria )- the idea is that they don't rip during wrestling bouts. We were ushered out before the wrestling proper- probably as there were women in the group. It felt a privilege to see them anyway

1 comment:

Stephanie Pettengell said...

I am really enjoying the photo's and explanation of your trip, please keep it coming.