Author's note: I should like to thank Kathryn Babayan, Babak Fozooni, Marion H. Katz, Afsaneh Najmabadi, Philippe Rochard, Sunil Sharma, Houman Sarshar, Anthony Shay, and three anonymous readers for their helpful comments on earlier drafts.
1 For a concise introduction to this institution, see Chehabi, H. E., “Zūrkhāna,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 11 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2002), 572–74. For a somewhat longer overview see Krawietz, Birgit, “Martial Arts Iranian Style: Zurkhane Heavy Athletics and Wrestling Contested,” in Sport across Asia: Politics, Culture, and Identities, ed. Bromber, Katrin, Krawietz, Birgit, and Maguire, Joseph (New York: Routledge, 2013), 144–66. Unfortunately the most comprehensive account of the institution in a Western language remains unpublished: Philippe Rochard, “Le ‘Sport antique’ des zurkhâne de Téhéran. Formes et significations d'une pratique contemporaine” (PhD diss., Université Aix-Marseille I, 2000). In Persian, the best study is still Kashani, Husayn Partaw Bayzaʾi, Tarikh-i varzish-i bastani-yi Iran: Zurkhanah (Tehran: Zavvar, 2003 ). In Arabic, see al-Taʾi, Jamil, al-Zurkhanat al-Baghdadiyya (Baghdad: al-Nahda al-ʿArabiyya Bookstore, 1986).
2 On Shaʿban Jaʿfari, see Sarshar, Homa, Shaʿban Jaʿfari (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Nashr-i Nab, 2002); and Chehabi, H. E., “Jaʿfari, Šaʿbān,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. 14 (New York: Encyclopaedia Iranica Foundation, 2008), 366–67.
3 See Ridgeon, Lloyd, Morals and Mysticism in Persian Sufism: A History of Sufi-Futuwwat in Iran (New York: Routledge, 2010), chap. 6; and Arley Loewen, “The Concept of Jawānmardī (Manliness) in Persian Literature and Society” (PhD diss., University of Toronto, 2001).
4 The lecture was later published, sans the revelations of the Q&A: Ilahi, Sadr al-Din, “Nigahi digar bih sunnati kuhan: zurkhanah,” Iranshinasi 6 (1994): 731–38.
5 Numerous studies have shown that the concepts of “homosexuality” or “homosexual” are not applicable to a premodern setting in the Islamic world, for which reason I avoid them here. See, e.g., El-Rouayheb, Khaled, Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Islamic World, 1500–1800 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005).
6 For a study of heteronormalization as part of the coming of modernity to Iran, see Najmabadi, Afsaneh, Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2005).
7 See Chehabi, H. E. and Guttmann, Allen, “From Iran to All of Asia: The Origin and Diffusion of Polo,” International Journal of the History of Sport 19 (2002): 384–400; and Chehabi, H. E., “Wrestling in the Shāhnāmeh and Later Persian Epics,” in The Layered Heart: Essays on Persian Poetry, ed. Seyed-Gohrab, Asghar (Washington, D.C.: Mage, 2018), 237–82.
8 Shaykh Mushrifuddin Sa‘di of Shiraz, trans. Thackston, Wheeler M., The Gulistan (Rose Garden) of Saʿdi (Bethesda, Md.: Ibex Publishers, 2008), 39, 37.
9 See Southgate, Minoo S., “Men, Women, and Boys: Love and Sex in the Works of Saʿdi,” Iranian Studies 17 (1984): 413–52; Hämeen-Anttila, J., “Saʿdi – a misogynist?,” Studia Orientalia 64 (1988): 169–75; and Katouzian, Homa, Saʿdi: The Poet of Life, Love and Compassion (Oxford: Oneworld, 2006), 42–50.
10 Yarshater, Ehsan, “The Theme of Wine-drinking and the Concept of the Beloved in Early Persian Poetry,” Studia Islamica 13 (1960): 43–53.
11 Shamisa, Sirus, Shahidbazi dar adabiyat-i farsi (Tehran: Firdaws, 2002).
12 Sprachman, Paul, Suppressed Persian: An Anthology of Forbidden Literature (Costa Mesa, Calif.: Mazda, 1995), 33.
13 “Hazliyyat,” in Kulliyat-i Saʿdi, ed. Muhammad-ʿAli Furughi (Tehran: Dunya-yi kitab, n.d.), 15–17. This episode cannot be found in most editions, but whether it was really composed by Sa‘di or not is immaterial for the purpose of this study.
14 Quoted in Sprachman, Paul, “Le beau garçon sans merci: The Homoerotic Tale in Arabic and Persian,” in Homoeroticism in Classical Arabic Literature, ed. Wright, J.W. Jr. and Rowson, Everett K. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 201. The original can be found in Furughi, Zuka al-Mulk, ed., Kulliyat-i Saʿdi (Tehran: Javidan, 1992), 930–31.
15 Zakani, ʿUbayd, “Risalah-yi Sad Pand,” nos. 46 and 56, Kulliyat-i ʿUbayd-i Zakani (Tehran: Adab, 1953), 45–46. In the English translation these two admonitions have been rendered less coarse: “Do not withhold your posterior favors from friends and foes when young, so that in old age you can attain the status of a sheikh, a preacher or a man of fame and dignity,” and “Do not consider the man who floors his opponent an athlete or a wrestler, but rather the one who places his face on the floor and eagerly lets the other one mount him.” See Zakani, Obeyd, “The Treatise of One Hundred Maxims,” The Ethics of the Aristocrats and Other Satirical Works, translated with an introduction by Javadi, Hasan (Piedmont, Calif.: Jahan Books, 1985), 65.
16 Hamid, Hamid, Zindagi va ruzigar va andishah-yi Puriya-yi Vali (Tehran: Sahil, 1975). For a study of the legends surrounding him see Piemontese, Angelo, “La leggenda del Santo-lottatore Pahlavān Maḥmud Xvārezmi ‘Puryā-ye Vali,’” Annali i.u.o. Napoli 15 (1965): 167–213.
17 This is in a manuscript titled Safinah-yi Khushgu, of which there is a manuscript (no. 2724) in the Sipahsalar Library in Tehran. Quoted in Hamid, Zindagi, 27 and 183.
18 Charles Melville, “Guzargahi's Majalis al-ʿushshaq, Amir Khusrau Dihlavi, and Fakhr al-Din ʿIraqi,” in Sufistic Literature in Persia: Tradition and Dimensions, ed. Azarmi Dukht Safavi (Aligarh: Institute of Persian Research, Aligarh Muslim University, n.d.), 30.
19 Gazurgahi, Amir Kamal al-Din Husayn, Majalis al-ʿUshshaq (Tazkirah-yi ʿUrafa) (Tehran: Zarrin, 1996), 199.
20 Vasifi, Zayn al-Din Mahmud, Badayiʿ al-vaqayiʿ, ed. Boldyrev, Aleksander (Tehran: Intisharat-i Bunyad-i Farhang-i Iran, 1970), 489–516. For a discussion of this chapter see Piemontese, Angelo, “Il capitulo sui pahlavān delle Badāyi‘ al-Waqāyi‘ di Vāṣefi,” Annali 16 (1966): 207–20.
21 The association of wrestling with water is a recurrent one: the most important Turkish oil wrestling tournament has been held at Kırkpınar (“forty springs”) near Edirne since 1346, in Varanasi Indian pahalvans exercise on the banks of the Ganges, and in Iran zūrkhānahs are often built near public bathhouses. According to Philippe Rochard the desirability of exercising near a source of water has two reasons: the ground on which the athletes exercise or wrestle must be kept moist to avoid injury, and athletes need to take baths to clean up and relax their muscles. Personal communication with the author, 14 January 2018.
22 In Persian kushtigiran means “wrestlers.” In modern Turkish and Uzbek topçak means “fat,” but unless Sultan Husayn Bayqara enjoyed the sight of fat wrestlers, topçak in Chaghatai may have meant something like “well-built.” Alternatively, Dr. Gulnora Aminova suggests that the word is töpçak, which means “stump.” Tupchaq-i kushtigiran would then mean a wrestler over whom other wrestlers stumble. E-mail message to the author, 28 May 2017.
24 As recounted in Chaghatai by the Timurid vizier and polymath Mir Navaʾi, ʿAli-Shir. See “Halat-i Pahlavan Muhammad,” in Alisher Navoiy, Mukammal Asarlar Toʾplami: yigirma tomlik, vol. 15, ed. Iashin, K. et al. (Tashkent: Fan, 1999), 110.
25 Quoted in Loewen, “The Concept of Jawānmardī,” 270–71. The original Persian poem can be found in Maʿani, Ahmad Gulchin, Shahr ashub dar shiʿr-i farsi, 2nd ed. (Tehran: Rivayat, 2001), 45.
26 Sir Chardin, John, Travels in Persia 1673–1766 (New York: Dover, 1988), 200–201.
27 For the full text see Partaw Bayzaʾi Kashani, Tarikh, 398–427. The title caught on, for there are other texts in the same genre also called gul-i kushti.
28 Levy, Reuben, Persian Literature: An Introduction (London: Oxford University Press, 1923), 96.
29 Gulchin Maʿani, Shahr ashub, 16, 45, 63, 151–52, 153, and 221.
30 Mir ʿAbd al-Karim ibn Mir Ismaʿil Sar Katib Ilchi, Safarnamah va tarikh-i Afghan va Hind, quoted in Inṣafpur, Ghulam-Riza, Tarikh va farhang-i zurkhanah va guruhha-yi ijtimaʿi-yi zurkhanah-raw (Tehran: Markaz-i mardumshinasi-yi Iran, 1974), 95.
31 Haji va Rustam har du ma‘shuq-i Mir Nijat budand va masnavi-yi gul-i kushti mansub bih anhast. SOAS Manuscript 46517, which is a collection of Mir Nijat's masnavī and two commentaries, f. 3 of the first commentary. Another Sharh-i Gul-i Kushti, by the Indo-Persian poet Arzu, was extant until a few decades ago. See Raḥimpur, Mahdi, Bar Khvan-i Arzu (Qom: Majmaʿ-i Zakhaʾir-i Islami, 2012), 23. One wonders whether its disappearance might not be the work of someone bent on safeguarding Arzu's “reputation.”
32 Umar, Muhammad, Urban Culture in Northern India during the Eighteenth Century (Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2001), 314. The author bases his assertion on a passage in Jang, Dargah Quli Khan Salar, Muraqqaʿ-i Dihli (Delhi: Shuʿbat-i Urdu-i Dihli Yuniversiti, 1982), 63. It is telling that in the English translation of the latter work, the original Persian phrase “mardum-i ḥasin,” which Muhammad Umar translates as “handsome boys,” is translated as “beautiful women.” Khan, Dargah Quli, Muraqaʿ-e-Dehli: The Mughal Capital in Muhammad Shah's Time, trans. Shekar, Chander and Chenoy, Shama Mitra (Delhi: Deputy Publication, 1989), 52. I thank Sunil Sharma for bringing Umar's book to my attention.
33 Merritt-Hawkes, O.A., Persia: Romance and Reality (London: Ivor Nicholson & Watson, 1935), 159. She published this book under a pen name.
34 Kamandi, ʿAbbas, Varzish va sarguzasht-e varzish-i bastani-yi Kurdistan (Sanandaj: n.p., 1984), 179–80.
35 Dadashi, Ahmad, Varzish-i bastani-yi Sari 1300–1370 (Sari: Markaz-i Pazhuhishha-yi Farhangi, 2010), 207–8.
36 The four Sunni legal schools and Twelver Shiʿa agree on this definition, and differences arise only on the question as to whether the navel itself is included or not.
37 Partaw Bayzaʾi Kashani, Tarikh, 53.
38 Bahar, Tik Chand, Bahar-i ʿAjam, vol. 3, ed. Dizfuliyan, Duktur Kazim (Tehran: Talayah, 2000), 1695.
39 From a Gul-i kushti quoted in Dadashi, Varzish-i bastani-yi Sari, 48.
40 Drouville, Gaspard, Voyage en Perse (Paris: Firmin Drouot, 1819), chap. 27 (53).
41 Partaw Bayzaʾi Kashani, Tarikh, 128–31.
42 Fiedler, Wilfried, “Sexuelle Enthaltsamkeit griechischer Athleten und ihre medizinische Begründung,” Stadion 11 (1985): 137–75.
43 Alter, Joseph S., The Wrestler's Body: Identity and Ideology in North India (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1992), 132.
44 Frembgen, Jürgen Wasim and Rollier, Paul, Wrestlers, Pigeon Fanciers, and Kite Flyers: Traditional Sports and Pastimes in Lahore (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2014), 19.
45 Anthony Shay, personal e-mail communication with the author, 25 July 2018.
46 Synnott, Anthony, “Shame and Glory: A Sociology of Hair,” British Journal of Sociology 38 (1987): 390. For a comparative anthropological study of hair and pilosity see Bromberger, Christian, Trichologiques: une anthropologie des cheveux et des poils (Paris: Bayard, 2010).
47 Partaw Bayzaʾi Kashani, Tarikh, 53–54.
48 Sabzivari, Mawlana Husayn Vaʿiz Kashifi, “Dar bayan-i kushtigiran,” in Futuvvat-Namah-yi Sultani, ed. Mahjub, Muhammad-Jaʿfar (Tehran: Bunyad-i Farhang-i Iran, 1971), 306–12. For a discussion of this book see Piemontese, Angelo, “Il tratatto sulla futuvva (Fotovvatnāme-ye Solṭāni) di Ḥosein Vāʿeẓ Kāšefi,” Atti del terzo congress di studi arabi e islamiche (Naples: Istituto Universitario Orientale, 1967), 557–63.
49 Shahri, Jaʿfar, Tarikh-i ijtimaʿi-yi Tihran dar qarn-i sizdahum, vol. 1 (Tehran: Muʾassasah-yi Khadamat-i Farhangi-yi Rasa; Intisharat-i Ismaʿiliyan, 1990), 414.
50 Ibid., vol. 5, 247. While doing his fieldwork on the zūrkhānah, Philippe Rochard was told by older informants that in the Iranian underworld it was customary for gang leaders to sodomize new initiates to bind them to the group. Personal communication, with the author, 14 January 2018.
51 Romero, Fernando García, “Eros A.....s: les métaphores érotico-sportives dans les comédies d'Aristophane,” Nikephoros 8 (1995): 57–76.
52 See Arasteh, Reza, “The Character, Organization, and Social Role of the Lutis (Javanmardan) in the Traditional Iranian Society of the Nineteenth Century,” Journal of the Economics and Social History of the Orient 4 (1961): 47–52; and Floor, W.M., “The Lutis – A Social Phenomenon in Qajar Persia,” Die Welt des Islams 13 (1971): 103–20.
53 See Chehabi, H. E., “The Juggernaut of Globalization: Sport and Modernization in Iran,” International Journal of the History of Sport 19 (2002): 275–94.
54 Marashi, Afshin, “The Nation's Poet: Ferdowsi and the Iranian National Imagination,” in Iran in the 20th Century: Historiography and Political Culture, ed. Atabaki, Touraj (London: I.B.Tauris, 2009), 93–112 and 286–90.
55 For a critical engagement with the notion of Qajar decadence see Bausani, Alessadro, “The Qajar Period: An Epoch of Decadence?,” in Qajar Iran: Political, Social, and Cultural Change 1800–1925, ed. Bosworth, Edmund and Hillenbrand, Carole (Costa Mesa, Calif.: Mazda, 1992), 255–60.
56 Polak, Jacob Eduard, Persien, das Land und seine Bewohner (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus; repr., Hildesheim: Georg Olm, 1976), 189.
57 Asaf, Muhammad Hashim, al-Hukamaʾ, Rustam, Rustam al-tavarikh, ed. Mushiri, Muhammad (Tehran: Chap-i Taban, 1969), 103. In a more recent edition (Tehran: Firdaws, 2000), this passage is censored (91).
58 See Afary, Janet, Sexual Politics in Modern Iran (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), esp. chaps. 4 and 5. For a discussion of same-sex practices before that era see Floor, Willem, A Social History of Sexual Relations in Iran (Washington, D.C.: Mage, 2008), 279–350.
59 Gushah, Hasan, “Varzish-i bastani dar Iran,” Payam-i Naw 3/6 (Farvardin 1326/March 1947): 47–55.
60 This taboo survived into the 21st century. When I alluded to same-sex practices in a paper I presented under the title “The Querelle des anciens et des modernes in Iranian sports” at a conference, the editor of a diasporic Persian-language journal who wanted to publish a translation of my presentation preferred cutting out the relevant sentences. My article was published as Shihabi, Hushang, “Ruyaruʾi-yi sunnat va mudirnitah dar tarbiyat-i badani-yi Iran,” Iran Namah 24 (2008): 81–103.
61 This novel is discussed in Najmabadi, Women with Mustaches, 161.
62 On Shahri see Milani, Abbas, “Tehran & Modernity: Jaʿfar Shahri's Personal Odyssey,” in his Lost Wisdom: Rethinking Modernity in Iran (Washington, D.C.: Mage, 2000), 83–91.
63 Shahri, Jaʿfar, Shikar-i talkh (Tehran: Ruz, 1968), 207–8.
64 Nuqrahkar, Masʿud, Bachchahha-yi aʿmaq (Cologne: Furugh, 2013), 225. While interviewing a top football player of the 1970s for my article on Iranian football, he justified his disdain for wrestling by pointing out that in the hold of sagak, when one man clamps his legs around his opponent, his private parts come into contact with the other man's body, some wrestlers using this opportunity to rub against their opponent for sexual pleasure.
65 Nuqrahkar, Bachchahha-yi aʿmaq, 455.
67 Rochard, “Le ‘Sport antique’ des zurkhâne de Téhéran,” 71–72.
68 The director of this film was Samuel Khachikian and its screenplay was by Manuchihr Kay-Maram, a former member of the communist Tudeh party. It won a prize at the Tashkent Film Festival and has been popular in the Caucasus and in Central Asia to this day. It can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=En_jhqOow3w, accessed 3 December 2017.
69 Personal interview with the author, June 1997, Los Angeles. For details, see Rochard, “Le ‘Sport antique’ des zurkhâne de Téhéran,” 81–83.
70 Bahrami, Mansour and Issartel, Jean, The Court Jester: My Story (Milton Keynes: Tennis Mania Trust, in association with AuthorHouse, 2009).
71 Chehabi, H.E., “A Political History of Football in Iran,” Iranian Studies 35 (2002): 389–93.
72 Shahhusayni, Husayn, Haftad sal paydari, vol. 1, 1320–1360 (Tehran: Chapakhsh, 2015), 409.
73 This prohibition is still enforced and constitutes one of the most controversial issues in Iran's culture wars. See Fozooni, Babak, “Iranian Women and Football,” Cultural Studies 22 (2008): 114–33.
74 In a joke circulating at the time, a provincial clerical leader was quoted to have suggested separate TV channels for men and women as a solution to the problem.
75 See Koyagi, Mikiya, “Moulding Future Soldiers and Mothers of the Iranian Nation: Gender and Physical Education under Reza Shah, 1921–41,” International Journal of the History of Sport 26 (2009): 1668–96.
76 This is thematized in Jafar Panahi's film Offside (2006), in which some young Iranian women dress up as men to attend a football match. It won awards outside Iran but was not screened inside the country.
77 Tabari, Jaleh, “Areas of Iranian Women's Voice and Influence,” in Gender in Contemporary Iran: Pushing the boundaries, ed. Bahramitash, Roksana and Hoogland, Eric (London: Routledge, 2011), 93–95.
78 Akrami, Jamal al-Din, Guy va chawgan: sarguzasht-i varzish dar Iran (Tehran: Kanun-i parvarish-i fikri-yi kudakan va nawjavanan, 2016), 38.
79 On the changing aesthetics of the male body in zūrkhānah sports, see Rochard, Philippe, “Les représentations du «beau geste» dans le sport traditionnel iranien,” in Iran: Questions et connaissances, vol. 3, ed. Hourcade, Bernard (Paris: Peeters, 2003), 161–70.
81 The rowdy and impolite behavior of male spectators is the official reason women are not allowed to attend men's sports events. Women retort that they should not pay the price for men's disinclination to behave themselves.
82 Technical manuals have adopted this dress code as well. Bulur, Compare Habib Allah, Fann va band-i kushti (Tehran: Madrasah-yi ʿAli-yi Varzish, 1976) and Tafrishi, Abu al-Qasim Rayigan, Amuzish-i kushti-yi pahlavani (Tehran: Safir Ardahal, 2001).
83 Krawietz, “Martial Arts Iranian Style,” 156.
84 Rochard, Philippe and Jallat, Denis, “Zurkhaneh, Sufism, Fotovvat/Javanmardi and Modernity: Considerations about Historical Interpretations of a Traditional Athletic Institution,” in Javanmardi: The Ethics and Practice of Persianate Perfection, ed. Ridgeon, Lloyd (London: The Gingko Library, 2018), 244.
85 On the question of whether it is appropriate to consider zūrkhānah exercises as “martial arts” or not see ibid., 239–42.
86 Ridgeon, Lloyd, “The Zūrkhāna between Tradition and Change,” Iran 64 (2007): 243–65.
89 ʿIlmi, “Tablu-yi vurud mamnuʿ dar gawd-i zurkhanah.”
93 But note that the rules of the shariʿa concerning ʿawrah are not the only ones that are relevant to an actual social situation; propriety is based on other criteria as well. In Marion H. Katz's words, “Is it haram to look at this body part” and “Is it decent to display this body part” are not identical questions. Personal e-mail communication with the author, 5 November 2018.
95 This point is forcefully made in Rochard, Philippe, “The Identities of the Iranian Zūrkhānah,” Iranian Studies 35 (2002): 313–40.
96 For a general study see Guttmann, Allen, The Erotic in Sports (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996).
97 Umar, Urban Culture in Northern India, 314. The original poem is “Masnavi dar hajv-i tifl-i za'i‘-i rozgar-i lakribaz,” in Sauda, Mirza Rafiʿ, Kulliyat-i Sauda (Lucknow: Naval Kishor, 1932), 386–88.
98 Khan, Badruddin, “Action on the Sidelines: Kushti,” Sex, Longing & Not Belonging: A Gay Muslim's Quest for Love and Meaning (Oakland, Calif. and Bangkok: Floating Lotus Books, 1997), 51–61.
99 Hirschfeld, Magnus, Berlins Drittes Geschlecht (1904, Berlin: Verlag rosa Winkel, 1991), 100–102. The author (1868–1935) was a major pioneer of the modern movement for homosexual rights.
100 See Turkington, Carol, No Hold Barred: The Strange Life of John E. du Pont (New York: Turner Publishing Company, 1996).
101 More recent scholarship has revealed that even an exclusively “spiritual” interpretation glosses over obvious textual evidence. See Miller, Matthew Thomas, “Embodying the Sufi Beloved: (Homo)eroticism, Embodiment, and the Construction of Desire in the Hagiographic Tradition of ʿErâqi,” Journal of Middle Eastern Literatures 21 (2018): 1–27.