Official Music of Pahlavani

Traditional Iranian Martial Arts (Varzesh-e Pahlavani)

Pahlavan-e Bozorg Razaz with one of his students Haj Bagher Miveh-chian

Publisher's Note (Added 8/22/02)

In this edition, we embark on describing tools used in Pahlavani exercises. This section indeed answers the most asked question from Pahlavani followers and practitioners of other schools of martial arts. We start with the apparatus Meel and move to other tools such as Kabadeh, Sang and Takhteh Shena.

Furthermore, we introduce the new section Memorial for the first time. This section aims at memoralizing the departure of current Pahlavans of Iran from this earthly life as we know it. As Pahlavani tradition reaches its 78th year in the third phase of its Contemporary Era, the Pahlavans of the 20th century have begun their journey to fly from this mortal world. We, therefore, find it appropriate to celebrate their rich lives and hence this memorial page. After all, this is the Pahlavani web site on the worldwide web and we feel obliged to pay tribute to the Pahlavans who are passing away.

We just learned the sad news that Pahlavan Abul-Ghasem Sakhdari passed away last week. We dedicate this section to his memory.

Hooshyar F. Naraghi

Publisher's Note (Added 6/14/02)

We are pleased to announce that the Pahlavani publication on the Internet that started by Sportestsan Publishing in 1996 is now compiled and published on a dedicated web site under

We will be redesigning this web site in the coming months with the idea of organizing the content in a user-friendly fashion to suite the academic and research nature of the work we embarked upon several years ago. Pahlavani is a rich and substantial tradition in the Iranian sports and her social culture that deserves its own dedicated branding.

For now, we have carried over the content as it first appeared on the Sportestan Publishing web site and with the permission of Sportestan Publishing. If you wish to learn more about Pahlavani tradition, please send your inquiries to

Hooshyar F. Naraghi

Publisher's Note (Added 1/23/99)

In Part 3 of Traditional Iranian Martial Arts, we cover the prevailing Misconceptions, Misinformation and Misrepresentations in this tradition.

Publisher's Note (Updated 9/27/97)

In Part 2 of Traditional Iranian Martial Arts, we cover
Schools of Pahlavani and their main Pahlavans. We also added the Dedication section and the Reference section. Additionally, we updated the Timeline in the four periods within the history of pahlavani. Finally, the Dictionary section was updated.

Publisher's Note (Added 10/01/96)

The closest I came to learn about traditional Iranian martial arts, or in Persian Varzesh-e Pahlavani, was when I studied the life of Jahan Pahlavan Takhti. But the late Takhti was a bridge between traditional martial arts and what is referred to in the world today as the modern wrestling. He lived in the contemporary era while his soul and habits belonged to the ancient era of Pahlavani. We rather recognize him as one of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the world. After all, he lived at our time although his sudden passing away in early 1968 stopped the new generation from knowing him. It was ironic that the last link to Pahlavani tradition must have left this earthly world so soon. With Takhti's death the evolution of the traditional Iranian martial arts came to a sudden halt.

My study of Gholamreza Takhti suffered greatly due to lack of any reliable information about the history of Varzesh-e Pahlavani. There were veteran analysts and scholars who had access to information, but they decided they would not want to help me in my crusade. It seemed making money from the late Takhti was the echo of the day. I failed to make them understand that my publishing the Pahlavani tradition was not for personal gain or business adventures.

I was on my own. While I vividly remembered those scenes from Pahlavani exhibitions in my youth years, I knew well then that those shows could not represent the true image of Varzesh-e Pahlavani. Yet, I knew of no reliable sources to investigate the truth.

Sportestan Publishing is pleased to present for the first time a true and accurate account of the history of traditional Iranian martial arts published anywhere in the world. The publication of this series has become possible through the selfless contribution of Mr. Farzad Nekoogar. He is the author of this research and has offered his years of studies and investigation in the hope that after so many years of misconceptions and misinformation at last a true and honorable image of Varzesh-e Pahlavani can be realized.

Mr. Nekoogar is currently working in Silicon Valley (California, USA) in the electronics industry. He is the author of several technical books and lectures at the University of California in Electrical Engineering and Theoretical Physics.

In his spare time he plays the Iranian instrument Setar and practices the traditional Iranian martial arts. He has been researching this subject for over twenty years. Having had the honor of working with him on this series for so long, I can safely and accurately claim that Varzesh-e Pahlavani is his passion. He understands this tradition and is uniquely qualified to bring to us what we should know about this purely Iranian tradition. You may contact Mr. Nekoogar at and offer your feedback about this series.

Hooshyar F. Naraghi
September 1996


Varzesh-e Pahlavani, widely known as Varzesh-e Bastani by mistake for the past seventy years, was originally an academy of physical training and a nursery for warriors against foreign invaders similar in purpose to Korean, Japanese and Chinese martial arts.

However, throughout the last three thousand years it acquired, and was enriched with, different components of moral, ethical, philosophical, and mystical values of the Iranian civilization. As a result, Varzesh-e Pahlavani emerged as a unique institution having incorporated the spiritual richness of Sufism, traditional rituals of Mithraism, and heroism of Iranian nationalism. The heroes of this academy are called Pahlavans.

Many of these Pahlavans were greatly responsible for revolting against Greeks, Arabs and Mongol invaders throughout the history of Iran. Yet the word Pahlavan has been misused throughout centuries, either by the scholars hired by regimes who misrepresented facts to appease the regimes they worked for, or unqualified writers who were not familiar with the institution of Varzesh-e Pahlavani, or simply the masses who did not have access to reliable and accurate sources.

The history of Varzesh-e Pahlavani can be traced back to the Parthian Empire of Iran (132 BC - 226 AD). Even the word Pahlavan comes from Parthia (according to one of the most reliable sources on history of the ancient Iran, "History of Ancient Iran" by Hasan Pirnia). According to Pirnia, there is a good chance that even Ferdowsi (935?-1026? AD), the greatest Iranian mythical poet and historian, was referring to the Parthian Period in his "Book of Kings" (in Persian Shah-nameh) when he wrote about the mythical period of the Iranian history. Mithraism reached its peak in this period and eventually spread from Iran to the Roman Empire. There are striking similarities between rituals of Mithraism and Varzesh-e Pahlavani. Even Mithraic temples are similar in structure to Zoorkhaneh's, the place where the rituals of Varzesh-e Pahlavani are practiced. We will allocate some space to cover these similarities in detail.

Unfortunately with the invasion of western values into Iran at the turn of the century and the ignorance, as well as poorly designed policies, of the Pahlavi regime towards this tradition, Varzesh-e Pahlavani has lost some of its popularity and there exist a lot of misconceptions about this institution. The goal of this series is to present Varzesh-e Pahlavani and its history in several articles to the worldwide audience, including Iranians living in Iran and abroad, who might not have a clear idea about the subject. Hopefully, we can correct some of the misconceptions associated with Varzesh-e Pahlavani.

Also, many heroes of Varzesh-e Pahlavani such as Pahlavan-e Bozorg, Haj Seyyed Hasan Razaz, also known as Pahlavan Shoja'at (~1853-1941), are almost forgotten and instead heroes of the new generation of Iranians are superficial Hollywood characters of the kind of Arnold Schwartzenegger. In my recent trips back home, I was sad to see posters of these socalled supermen (Sylvester Stallone, Van Damm, etc.) in sport shops and newsstands in Tehran. Yet I could not find any poster or printed material about so many Pahlavans who have appeared in the Iranian plateau.

The current literature on Varzaesh-e Pahlavani is limited to a few out-of-print and outdated books and a series of articles written (mostly with incorrect information) on the subject within the last fifty years. The only authentic source I can mention that has approached a scholarly work in the area of Pahlavani tradition is a recent book titled "The History of Wrestling in Iran" by Mr. Mehdi Abassi. This book was brought to my attention by Hooshyar Naraghi from Sportestan Publishing. One out-of-print book I can also mention as a reliable source is "Tarikh-e Varzesh-e Bastani (Zoorkhaneh)" (translated as "History of Traditional Iranian Martial Arts") by Mr. Hossein Parto Beizai.

With the technology available to us through desktop and web publishing, and the Internet itself as a medium of dissemination of information, I felt this is the right time to present my research on Varzesh-e Pahlavani which I have compiled within the last fifteen years.

A Table of Contents is provided at this time, and its topics will be presented systematically on the Pahlavani web site. This will be an ever evolving endeavor and we will update our pages regularly. We will start with a general timeline, the first timeline ever constructed, that shows the chronology of the evolution of the institution of Pahlavani. The timeline will be also updated regularly as it is going to be supplemented with pictures, audio, video and content about the past three thousand years of Varzesh-e Pahlavani.

Farzad Nekoogar
September 1996

Table of Contents


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