Where: Tehran & across Iran
What’s it about: body building as a spiritual movement, to achieve the might of Rustam from the Book of Kings
What do you get if you mix giant moustaches, floral pants, stunning tile work, poetry readings, enormous clubs, and sky-high levels of testosterone? If you think the outcome might be some kind of religious gym, you’d be right. Called a zurkhana – meaning ‘house of strength’ – these incongruous places mix the physical and spiritual into a kind of body/soul-building, declaring that without this training one is “less than a man”.
What happens at a Zurkhana?
The moustachioed members of this social club attain manliness by lacing up those floral leather pants, grabbing very heavy objects like those 20kg clubs, or 30kg coffee-table size shields, and swinging them around in the tiled wrestling pit of the zurkhana while a Sufi leader reads encouraging verse, dedicating the exercise to God, and drums are pounded. The aim is to achieve the might of Rustam – a champion with big muscles, intelligence and cunning who featured in the 11th Century religious epic, the Book of Kings.
Revived as a sport by Ayatollah Khomeini as a symbol of resistance against the Shah, the Iranians take wrestling very seriously, and the national team are a fearsome world-cup winning bunch. There are a number of these zurkhana’s in Tehran, and other Iranian cities.
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By Hannah Englekamp