The zurxāne, or zurkhaneh, is the Iranian “House of Strength” where men of all ages come together to engage in a powerful physical and spiritual practice.
The zurxāne is where the pahlavānān (athletes) practice the ancient ritual of strength known as varzeš-e pahlavāni (“heroic sport”). Sometimes called varzeš-e bastani (“ancient sport”), the athletes train in physical practices which are geared towards fighting and utilise training tools which emulate weapons of war.
“Almost every traditional neighbourhood has a zurxāne. Found in the back alleys of cities, they are almost invisible from the outside. They have an unassuming, almost unnoticeable exterior. Only a small sign usually announces that it is a zurxāne. The zurxāne has a small door so that everyone who enters, regardless of station in life, must bow and show humility and modesty to enter. Shoes must be removed at the door. A narrow corridor then leads to an expansive domed inner chamber reminiscent of the Mithraic cave of initiation or a Ṣufī lodge.” Tom Billinge, WarYoga Zurxāne
In the centre of the high-domed room is the go’d (“hollow” or “deep”), a sacred sunken pit in which the activities of the house of strength take place. Here the athletes swing perform their exercises and accompanying prayers. They perform šeno push ups and swing mils. They lift sang and sway the kabbadē.
The go’d faces the sardam, an elevated platform which is the seat of the moršed (“master” or “guide”), who plays the drum and bell while chanting poetry by Persian masters like Saʿdī, Ḥāfeẓ, Rūmī, and Ferdowsī.
This holy place is where men are turned into champions, and champions are turned into legends: legends who transcend mundane existence and wage the Greater Holy War against the lesser self.
For a deep look at the zurxāne and its place in Iranian culture, buy the WarYoga Zurxāne book.