History

Varzesh-e Pahlavani is said[1] to be traceable back to Arsacid Parthian times (132 BCE - 226 CE). Following the development of Sufi Islam in the 8th century CE, Varzesh-e Pahlavani absorbed philosophical and spiritual components.

Varzesh-e Pahlavani was particularly popular in the 19th century, during the reign of the Qajar king Nassar al-Din Shah (1848-1896). Performances inspired by Persian mythology were held at the Shah's court every 21 March (the Iranian new year[nowruz]). The sport declined following the rise of the Pahlavi dynasty in the 1920s and the subsequent modernisation campaigns of Reza Shah, who saw the sport as a relic of Qajarite ritual.

Reza Shah's son Mohammad Reza Pahlavi attempted to revive the tradition and practiced it himself, and during his reign, the last national competitions were held. Following the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the tradition has lost popularity.

In recent years, the sport appears[2] to be gaining popularity in the countries in the world including Europe and North America.

The emblem of the Zurkhaneh Sports Federation

The traditional gymnasium in which the Varzesh-e Pahlavani is practiced is known as the Zurkhaneh or Zourkhaneh (Persian: زورخانه), literally "house of strength". These 'houses of strength' are covered structures with a single opening in the ceiling, with a sunken octagonal or circular pit in the center (gaud).[3] Around the gaud is a section for the audience, one for the musicians, and one for the athletes.