Zurkhāneh, Akhāṛā, Pahlavān, and Jyeṣṭhī-mallas

Cross Cultural Interaction and Social Legitimisation at the Turn of the 17th Century

  • Philippe Rochard Université de Strasbourg
  • Oliver Bast Université Sorbonne Nouvelle


The tradition of Turco-Persian wrestling, including its programme of physical education based at dedicated gyms known as zurkhāneh (literally “houses of strength”), contains elements that would appear to merge Turkish, Iranian, Central-Asian, and Indian influences within a mystical (Sufi) Islamic framework potentially affected to a certain degree by Buddhism. The chapter discusses the relations and interaction between the Turco-Persian athletic tradition and the one existing in India on the basis of a parallel reading of four key textual sources, two from each tradition. On the Indian side we will draw on the analysis of the Mallapurāṇa and of the Mānasollāsa, while the Persian documents that inform our discussion are the Tumār-e afsāneh-ye Puryā-ye Vali and the Gol-e koshti of Mir-Nejāt Qomi known as Esfahāni. The chapter will first survey the evolution of the tradition of Turco-Persian wrestling from the middle of the 13th through to the end of the 16th century, and then make a comparative analysis of the connections between Turco-Persian wrestling and the Indian tradition of the jyeṣṭhī-mallas of Gujarat. Based on these observations it will then proceed to ask how one might explain the commonalities between the two traditions. Attention will be brought to the consideration that certain physical practices gain recognition thanks to being performed at royal courts, and, in India, also at temples, due to the intellectualisation, and hence legitimisation, of these borrowed practices by learned representatives of the dominant schools of thought present at the seats of political and/or spiritual power.

Author Biographies

Philippe Rochard, Université de Strasbourg

Philippe Rochard, PhD, MA, BA, is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Université de Strasbourg. He currently teaches at Strasbourg’s Faculty of Sports Science as well as at the Department of Persian Studies. Using ethnographic, anthropologic and historical methods, he is affiliated with his university’s multi-disciplinary research unit Groupe d’ Études Orientales, slaves et néo-helléniques – Strasbourg, UR 1340 where his research explores traditional forms of physical education with a regional focus on the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Asia. From 2008 until 2010, Rochard was Director of Institut Français de Recherche en Iran (IFRI) in Tehran. He is a corresponding member of the British Institute of Persian Studies (BIPS).

Oliver Bast, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle

Oliver Bast is currently a Professor of Persian Studies (Études iraniennes) at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle (USN) in Paris. He received his academic training at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the University of Tehran, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, and Otto-Friedrich-Universität Bamberg where he read History and Persian. Before his appointment to the professorship at USN in 2016, Oliver Bast was a Senior Lecturer [Associate Professor] in Middle Eastern History at the history department of the University of Manchester. He is a historian of Modern Iran focusing on the late Qajar and the Pahlavi period (1896–1979) with a particular interest in the history of international relations. Other research areas of his include the nexus of (collective) memory, historiography, and politics as well as the cognate field of life-writing studies.

How to Cite
ROCHARD, Philippe; BAST, Oliver. Zurkhāneh, Akhāṛā, Pahlavān, and Jyeṣṭhī-mallas. Journal of Yoga Studies, [S.l.], v. 4, p. 175 – 214, apr. 2023. ISSN 2664-1739. Available at: <https://journalofyogastudies.org/index.php/JoYS/article/view/JoYS.2023.V4.05>. Date accessed: 15 june 2024.