Madi Jahangir – I have been to Zurkhaneh once when i visited Qasr prison museum. As i entered Zurkhaneh, the house of strength and traditional gymnasium in which Iran’s most Ancient sport is practiced, the cold marble ground chilled my feet. The walls were recently renovated with the blue ceramics beautifully written on it with Persian calligraphy: ‘Ali‘; Name of first Shiite Imam surrounded by miniature of flowers and birds. The imagery of the figures of Iranian mythology were framed on the wall along with the modern wrestling champions and above all Gholam Reza Takhti.
Takhti was not an ordinary person. He was a World’s champion with several Gold medals in the Olympics, but not only as a wrestler he was a popular hero of Iran’s contemporary history. He was also a ‘Pahlevan’, a noble respectable man who stood up for justice and cared for pains of the weak and poor. He is often remembered for his wrestling combat with the Russian Alexander Medved in which he did not touch the injured leg of the Russian rival. In Iranian culture this kind of noble behaviors turn ordinary men to ‘Pahlevan‘ and the path to becoming a Pahlevan is often wrestling.
Wrestling known as Koshti has a long history in Iran and has been practiced since ancient time in greater Persia before the arrival of Islam from Arabia. The styles varied from one region to another. But the most popular was the Pahlavani wrestling which is still practiced in the Houses of Strength. In the epic poems of Shahnameh, the kings and the champions often wrestle in one on one fights and that is to show off their real strength in a battle without weapons. Wrestling however is also closely tied to the religion of the majority. In the Islamic tradition, the first Shiite saint, Imam Ali a.s was a champion and strong wrestler himself with high standard of morality and ethics. Now after thousands of years nothing much has changed about the sport. Before entering the field, the wrestlers kiss the battle ground and ask for permission from their coach just like in Zurkhaneh and from the master. Most of them are respected for their modesty and their charity works just as was in the Ancient sport. Even though wrestling in House of Strength is slightly different from the ones in the stadium, many of the Iranian legends were holding high ranks in both battle fields.
Today as i am writing the article Tehran’s Azadi stadium was filled with fans to watch a combat between American and Iranian wrestlers under the Wrestling world cup which has Iran as the host. They cheered happily and loud for the Iranian wrestler who won the battle. But not only the sensitive competition between two countries -which are rival outside the field too- drew attention of the Iranian fans. That is a typical routine of Azadi stadium. Iranians love wrestling dearly. With the decision of Olympics committee to remove Wrestling from the 2020 Olympics, Iranian fans seem more zealous than ever to keep the sport in the world competition. For Iranians wrestling is not only a struggle for their Pahlevans in the battle field. It is also a struggle for them to show off the chivalric character of their culture.
The path to becoming a Pahlevan is difficult and time consuming. But once a legend, then even the TV reporter of the wrestling match will become part of the Iranian nostalgia. With deep roots in the Iranian traditions to continue the path of nobility and sportsmanship of the legend champions, Iranians more than anyone else want this sport to remain in the Olympics. They want wrestling to remain in the competitions for the morality it is adding to the worldwide games, for the noble struggle of their humble wrestlers in the field and their caring behaviors toward pains of the weak and poor.