Introduction to Pahlevani Rituals
Pahlevani rituals is a Persian martial art that is one of the oldest manifestations of Persian culture, expressing the Islamic, mystical, and ancient beliefs of Persia. Pahlevani rituals is the intangible cultural heritage of Iran; It is a set of physical movements for the body cultivation and soul upliftment by spiritual instructions, which is combined with moral principles and make ordinary people, Pahlevan (a hero). According to the research results by the Bruchhaus University of Sports, ancient Iranian sports are considered to be the oldest sports in the world. Zurkhaneh is the world’s oldest bodybuilding sport. In addition, UNESCO inscribed this intangible Iranian cultural heritage on its World Heritage List in 2010. Therefore, such an ancient Persian martial art is known internationally. Today there are 50 zourkhanehs in Tehran. Iran has always hosted world travelers who wanted to see the sport as the motherland of the Pahlevani rituals.
History of Pahlevani Rituals
From the beginning, Persians have always been interested in heroic rituals, wrestling, and physical fitness. Even Zarathustra, the prophet of ancient Persia, commanded his followers to be ready for helping Ahuramazda (God) and fight the devil (Satan). From thousands of years ago until now, heroes have been considered valuable social figures in Persia; they were after the priests and were popular with the general public. Since warfare was one of the ancient world’s values, warriors mastered a variety of martial arts. Little by little, martial arts were mixed in ritual sports and became dramatic. The addition of moral principles to the collection of these theatrical and martial arts created a new style, called The collection of heroic rituals or ancient sports (Varzesh-e Bastani in Persian) today. A Pahlavan or hero is not only a proficient and strong warrior but also masters the skills of enhancing spirituallity. He must also have moral qualities such as chivalry, generosity, helping the weak and the poor, and amiability.
Who is Pourya-ye Vali?
The name of Zourkhaneh has been combined with the name of Pourya-ye Vali. In the 13th century, Mahmoud from Khwarazm, also known as Pourya-ye Vali, gave new life to Pahlevani rituals. Pourya-ye Vali is one of the most famous and oldest Persian heroes and wrestlers whose life has intertwined with legends. He was a prominent and virtuous mystic who knew Sufism and was unparalleled in chivalry, and his job was leather embroidery.
Zurkhaneh is where athletes gather, practice, and perform heroic Pahlevani rituals and ancient sports (Varzesh-e Bastani). Zoorkhaneh has a particular building; The roof of Zurkhaneh is high and in the form of a dome. Under the dome, there is a polygonal area as the principal place for practicing and performing zurkhaneh ceremonies;
The polygons (usually hexagons) area is a sunken 1m-deep octagonal or circular pit inside the centre called Gaud, or Gowed. All around the Gaud space is also the place of audiences and sports equipment. A group of men in heroic costumes will come to the Zoorkhane, performing combat (Razmi in Persian) moves in groups or individually.
Zoorkhanehs’ doors are short; you can find the reason in the philosophy of humility. A short door makes the newcomers enter the place, taking a bow as politeness and humility signs. Zoorkhanehs are not just a place to perform ancient sports, but because of the spiritual instructions they have for the athletes, they have become a sacred place that is highly esteemed. The Zurkhaneh building has exceptional proximity to the patterns of Mithraic temples and Mehravehs in ancient Persia.
The Position of the Morshed (Master) in Pahlevani Rituals
Each Zourkhaneh has a Murshed or Morshed (master) and a Pishkesvat (leader). The Morshed leads the Pahlevani ritual, performs epic, Gnostic poems, and beats out time on a Zarb goblet drum. The poems he recites transmit ethical and social teachings and constitute part of Zoorkhanei literature. Murshid is a symbol of an old man master in Persian mysticism. Today, the person who has a good voice and sings heroic poems in the Zurkhaneh with a pleasant melody is called a Morshed. The Murshed sits and performs his duties on a Sardam, where is a pure and respectable place. There is also a famous bell for Morshed, installed on his place, to cling on special occasions. One of the events of ringing the bell is when high-ranking heroes enter and leave the Zoorkhane. Miandar or Pishkesvat is the leader and skilled athlete who stands in the middle of the pit and, in coordination with Morshed, gives athletes the Pahlevani exercises; He also performs movements in the sunken arena, Gowed. We can consider Miandar as the executive director of an ancient sport.
What is Golrizan?
One of the common customs in Pahlevani Rituals is Golrizan, which indicates the economic status of Zoorkhanehs in the ancient culture of Persia. Golrizan means the cash donation by Zurkhaneh community for benevolent purposes. Opening or renovating a zourkhaneh, helping the needy, the victims of natural disasters, young couples in financial difficulties when marrying, respecting a hero from another city, two heroes wrestling and reconciling two Pishkesvats, all could be done by Golrizan donations. In Golrizan, after reciting poetry and beating Zarbs, Murshed asks the audience to distribute as much as they can. Two younger athletes hold the Gamucha on both sides and among the audience. Anyone put money in Gamuchas as much as they can afford; the whole ritual is called Golrizan. The Gamucha or Lowng in Pahlevani Rituals was used as a cover and a kind of uniform for athletes, but today their uniform has a new design.
The Martial Aspect of Traditional Sports
Some of the cultural tools needed to implement such an intangible cultural heritage are similar to weapons. Because of the similarities, some believe that wrestlers were taught battle techniques in the Zoorkhaneh in ancient times. Some of the tools are Mil (wooden clubs), Kabbadeh (bow-shaped iron weights), and Sang (metal shields), which are similar to rods, bows, and shields.
Traditions and rituals that are commonly performed in such sports are derived from both religious and mythological sources. From a Mythology point of view, the moral principles and values of brave men and ancient heroes are inspiring factors. From a religious point of view, the values and moral virtues of Imam Ali, the first Imam of the Shias, are the inspiration source for such athletes.
Pahlevani Rituals have their own rules and literature. When attending the Zourkhaneh, you should pay attention to the hierarchy of heroism (Pahlevani), age, as well as religious origins. The Sadats (people whose generation goes back to the Prophet of Islam) are highly respected. Old and veteran Pahlevans, who are called Zangi heroes, also are respected among the Zourkhaneh members. For this reason, athletes get permission (Rokhsat in Persian) from these characters before they start training. Rokhsat is an essential manner in Zourkhaneh etiquette. Other virtues promoted in heroic and zoorkhaneh rituals include forgiveness, humility, purity, and generosity. These features are intertwined with such an intangible Persian cultural heritage.
Basic Details in Zoorkhane and Pahlevani Rituals
- Zarb (goblet drum): It is a kind of big tombak that is the most influential musical instrument of the ceremony. By playing it by the Morshed, the athletes coordinate during training.
Athletes perform group movements with the rhythm of the song and the music of the master. Some of these movements are traditionally performed with special tools and sometimes without them.
- Spinning moves: An activity in which the person spreads his arms in opposite directions, spins around quickly, and at a rhythmic speed; This movement requires skill because the person must maintain his balance. They do this while rotating clockwise around a large ring. This movement usually takes one to three minutes. It is a combat technique that means that young people take the lead on the battlefield. In this way, younger athletes prepare themselves for war, sacrifice, and martyrdom.
- Stone-throwing: An athlete lies on the ground and lifts two stones, which are large wooden plates (like a battle shield), up and down on his body. Each stone weighs up to 80 kg.
- Push-ups and Exercising: Lighter and leaner athletes first gain permission (Rokhsat) and step forward to perform dramatic movements. These include push-ups for several minutes and other sports.
- Mil-Bazi: To perform the move, the athletes first take permission to go to the middle of the field and lift two miles, each weighing 1 to 2 kg. Athletes throw them into the air and catch them with high skill and impressive movements.