Traditional wrestling in Khorassan
Written and photographed by Nader Davoodi
January 14, 2002
We arrived in Esfarayen at about noon, on April 2, the thirteenth day
of Farvardin, when people take to the fields on the festival of Sizdah Bedar.
About a year ago I had heard that chookheh wrestling is held in the
town's Zeinolkhan arena. Matches start on April 1 and those who advance
to the semi-finals and finals compete the next day. Photos
For many years the arena has been used for chookheh contests in front
of 12,000 plus people, including women and girls, who are usually barred
from watching other male sporting events. Entrance is free and there's live
music during intervals. Musicians, playing kettledrums and oboes, sit in
the middle of the field, singing songs based on Ferdowsi's Shahnameh.
As wrestlers enter the ring and test each other's strength, the spectators
and veteran wrestlers offer prizes for the winners. These include gold,
cash, furniture, sugar and even sheep, horses, or chicken.
But the ultimate champion wins the highest prize: his future bride. It
is customary for the chookheh champion to court the girl of his desire.
In essence, when a revered champion defeats a rival from a neighboring village,
he wins the heart of his sweetheart.
Chookheh wrestling became popular during the Safavid period some 300
years ago. It is popular in Shirvan, Qoochan, Torghabeh, Bojnoord, Mashhad,
Ashkhaneh, Esfarayen, Chenaran and Darehgaz in the north of Khorassan Province.
Chookheh is actually the name of the wool jacket (white, red or blue)
worn by the wrestlers. Victory comes when the rival wrestler is lifted in
the air and spun in a circle, or when his shoulder touches the ground --
or by jury decision.