The strong men of Iran. One third aerobics, one third break dancing, and one third weight lifting show, and then throw in a bit of sufi dancing. I was in a treat for a unique performance.
I was in Shiraz a city of poets and formally wine. I was in the innards of the Shiraz bazaar. An inconspicuous door led into the basement.
A lone black and white photo with five serious looking guys signified what lay in store for me.
I took my seat in the cramped subterranean room. A sunken circle pit was the focal point of the room.
I was at a Zoorkhaneh performance. Zoorkhaneh is a traditional Iranian system of athletics to train warriors. It is an amalgam of many different beliefs from pre-Islamic such as Zoroastrianism as well as Shia Islam and Sufism.
I situated myself near the pit. A group of men casually stretched within the circular pit. A bearded grey haired man grabbed two pins, almost like giant bowling pins, and rhythmically twisted them around his shoulders.
The men ranged in age from their 20’s to senior citizens, with the exception of a boy approximately around ten years of age. I was to learn this slight boy was an Iranian Zoorkhaneh champion, and I was soon to learn why.
A man with close cropped hair positioned himself overlooking the pit. The morshed (the master) gripped a drum and was surrounded by several bells. His voice boomed over the microphone.
And over the evening, much was sang and spoken: fables of Persian mythology, poems honoring Shiite Imams and the Shahnameh, known as the Book of Kings which contains over 60,000 verses. In centuries past, this served as a function of educating these warriors in training.
The morshed led the men through their paces for over 90 minutes. The evening focused on both their physical and mental and physical strength. Scores of pushups. Giant pins were swung. A giant metal medieval-like device was launched above their heads and was shaken with a crescendo.
The men parted, and moved to the outskirts of the pit. The physically slight boy took to the center. The morshed slapped his drum. The boy stretched out his arms. Started spinning, pivoting on one leg. The drums pounded, the boy spun faster and faster. He was met with a round of applause.
More men took their turns. Younger, older. Some more proficient, others a step slower.
The night finally came to an end. A memorable and unique experience. The strong men of Iran.