Pahlevani and Zoorkhanei rituals

Inscribed in 2010 (5.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Country(ies): Iran (Islamic Republic of)



Pahlevani and Zoorkhanei rituals

Pahlevani is an Iranian martial art that combines elements of Islam, Gnosticism and ancient Persian beliefs. It describes a ritual collection of gymnastic and callisthenic movements performed by ten to twenty men, each wielding instruments symbolizing ancient weapons. The ritual takes place in a Zoorkhane, a sacred domed structure with an octagonal sunken arena and audience seats. The Morshed (master) who leads the Pahlevani ritual performs epic and Gnostic poems and beats out time on a zarb goblet drum. The poems he recites transmit ethical and social teachings and constitute part of Zoorkhanei literature. Participants in the Pahlevani ritual may be drawn from any social strata or religious background, and each group has strong ties to its local community, working to assist those in need. During training, students are instructed in ethical and chivalrous values under the supervision of a Pīshkesvat (champion). Those who master the individual skills and arts, observe religious principles and pass ethical and moral stages of Gnosticism may acquire the prominent rank of Pahlevanī (hero), denoting rank and authority within the community. At present, there are 500 Zoorkhanes across Iran, each comprising practitioners, founders and a number of Pīshkesvats.


Decision 5.COM 6.20

The Committee (…) decides that [this element] satisfies the criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, as follows:

  • R.1: The Pahlevani and Zoorkhanei rituals have been transmitted over many generations and contribute to social cohesion and solidarity, while transcending differences in age and religion;
  • R.2: Their inscription on the Representative List could contribute to the visibility of intangible cultural heritage given their shared practice among a number of countries in the region;
  • R.3: Recent safeguarding and revitalization measures are described, alongside a comprehensive schedule of legislation and an ambitious programme of proposed measures;
  • R.4: The nomination describes the ways in which the practitioners participated in the nomination process; and their free, prior and informed consent is provided;
  • R.5: The Pahlevani and Zoorkhanei rituals are included in the National Inventory of Iran maintained by the Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization.



© 2009 Iranian Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization

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