Zurkhana – Iran’s House of Strength

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