By Setareh Behroozi

Zurkhaneh, a forgotten home for social values and virtues!

November 4, 2017

Zurkhaneh, which literally means ‘strength house’ in Persian, is a special traditional place where men practice heroic sport. But that is not all! For Iranians it is associated with virtues and is symbol for their national identity.

The name of Zurkhaneh is interwoven with Iranian and Islamic values and rituals. Actually, I first visited a Zurkhaneh some years ago as women, non-Muslims and prepubescent boys had not been permitted to enter Zurkhanehs.

Now, there are some Zurkhanehs in big cities of Iran which are open to the public and everyone can visit the place and enjoy the atmosphere in these mythical gyms.

Zurkhaneh: An inspiring building

Zurkhaneh is mostly sunken few meters below the street level. The reason is the constant temperature, which is essential for athletes who are bathed in perspiration after work out.

It has one entrance, a low door, which makes everyone to bow before attending place to show the respect for the place.

Most zurkhanehs are adorned with the picture of Imam Ali (AS) and also pictures of athletes and saints.  

Zurkhaneh is composed of a centered one-meter sunken hexagonal area, known as gowd, surrounded with seats for audience, where athletes do their work out.

Morshed or Sardam, which literally means mentor, is a senior athlete who sits on an elevated and decorated seat overlooking the men in the gowd and spurs them with chanting rhythmical religious epic poems, mostly by classic Persian poets and playing zarb (drum). The athletes then enter the gowd and start united moves with drumbeats.

All the men enter gowd are bare chest and bare foot wearing embroidered leather breeches. They usually kiss the ground or touch it and raise it to their lips.

The exercises begin from lying and bowing position and ends to stand-up ones, which reminds of human being life from childhood to adulthood. 

Athletes do push-ups and whirl rapidly with rhythm of zarb, which is known as ‘charkh’. They swing a pair of mil (wooden clubs) above their shoulder, do press-up with sang (metal shields), and swing kabbadeh, bow made of iron with metal rings and coin-like pieces hanging from its body, above their head during exercise.

Zurkhaneh: A place to remember human values

Religious belief and human values play an important role in Zurkhaneh. Paying respect to senior athletes and older persons is one of the principles at the place.

There is no hierarchy in people who attend the place. Regardless of their wealth, social class or titles, they all appears in same dress in gowd. Chatting, eating and smoking is prohibited during exercise.

The priority to enter gowd is given to those entitled seyyed, an honorific title denoting people accepted as descendants of Prophet Muhammad (S). 

Traditionally, athlete do not pay for attending zurkhaneh and it depends on public donations.

Zurkhaneh was host to charity events like “Golrizan” or casting of flower in past time. 

During the event, people are invited to zurkhaneh athletes hold wrestling matches and performs some heroic actions to raise fund for needy people.

During the performance, a young athlete pass around a gamucha holding with his hand in order to collect money.

Zurkhaneh is not a place but it is a concept for remembering virtues that were a part of our everyday life in near past.

It provides a place for all people to take some distance from their social roles and introduce themselves by their physical and mental power and how much we need such distances in our modern world!

SB/MG

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