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Varzesh-e Bastani (Sport of Ancients), the Art of Physical and Ethical Training


News Category: Cultural

 08 November 2003



Iranians were the first nation in the world that attached great importance to their health, burly figure, and strength; they carried out body building exercises and trained their offspring to practice them.

Herodotus, the Greek historian says: “Iranians develop three habits in their five to twenty-year-old children, "horse riding, archery, and truthfulness".” Spiritual and physical education has a long history starting from Median dynasty to Achaemenids; the education system was so unique that there was no corresponding system throughout the eastern countries of that time.

After Herodotus reports on the extent of importance that Iranians attached to sports, Greeks started to appreciate physical education, too.

In his article on “Mithraism and Iranian ancient sport”, Mehrdad Bahar shows the common points between Iranian ancient sport and Mithraism. Being the symbol of chivalry and bravery, the “god of sun” is also a guide to religion, friendship, blessing, and fortune. This god in Iran created religious, Gnostic, and chivalrous patterns and deeply affected Iranian nation and culture so that Iranian, consciously or unconsciously, followed his patterns before and after the advent of Islam.

The available information shows the common grounds between the Iranian ancient Warrior Sport (Varsesh-e Pahlevani) or Iranian Martial Art, and Mithraism rituals. Besides, a warrior in Zurkhaneh is expected to be pure, truthful, good tempered and early riser. Avesta says that “sun” is the word of God; he is the enemy of lie and friend of truth, representing good thoughts, good words, and good deeds.

A warrior is a paragon of valour who fears no one and fights the enemies single handed. The “sun”, too, is the most powerful among other entities; he is athletic, tall, husky, and strong. A warrior should start his exercises right after saying his prayers in the morning when the “sun” rises and illuminates the world. 

In Zurkhaneh, only adults are admitted just like in the Mithraism where only matured individuals are entitled to attend the ceremonies. In Zurkhaneh, like Mithraism, women are not admitted; wealth, property, and social status are considered no advantage in both Zurkhaneh and Mithraism. Warriors think of each other as brothers and co-religionists. In Zurkhaneh, veterans are most favored; the same as Mithraism.

There is two variations of this ancient Iranian sport, Varzesh-e Bastani (Sport of Ancients), Varsesh-e Pahlevani (Sport of Warrior/Parthian).




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