The zurkhaneh, or “house of strength,” is a traditional Persian gymnasium where varzesh-e-bastani, or “ancient sport” is practiced. Developed out of the art of wrestling, an old tradition throughout South, Central, and West Asia, today it consists of a combination of wrestling, gymnastics, and strength training accompanied by rhythmic drumming and poetry.
While the zurkhaneh holds a special place among Persian heritage and traditions, during the 20th Century its popularity diminished in Iran. In an effort to revive and continue the tradition, organizations such as the International Zurkhaneh Sports Federation (IZSF) have been promoting the sport within Iran as well as outside of the country. As part of these efforts, in 2005 the IZSF and the Iranian Embassy in Tajikistan sponsored the building of a zurkhaneh in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. This gymnasium, located in the Central Republican Stadium, or central sports complex of Dushanbe, has attracted the attention of a number of young Tajik athletes.
Named after the famous Persian poet Hakim Abol Qasem Ferdowsi, author of the Shahnameh, or “Book of Kings,” the zurkhaneh in Dushanbe stands as a link between modern Tajikistan and its ancient roots. As such, Tajik athletes such as Navruz Arabov, Saidmahmud Zamirov, and Jahangir Arabov, view the zurkhaneh as more than just a place for exercising. They consider it a space where they can gather together, socialize, and reconnect to their ancient Persian heritage. A place where they can find respite from everyday hardships and learn the codes of Persian chivalry, the zurkhaneh has, in their words, become “a second home.”
In this multimedia report produced by Katherine Bruch and Tommy Triebwasser Prado, we visit the zurkhaneh in Dushanbe and hear about what personal significance the zurkhaneh has for some of the Tajik athletes, as well as their hopes for the future of this type of ancient sport in Tajikistan.
This report was first published on Jadidonline on 24.08.2011.