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
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.