Traditional Wrestling - Gulesh

Traditional wrestling in Azerbaijan - Gulesh

Gulesh according to Azerbaijanis is the competition not only in body force but also in will power and spirit. And if earlier Gulesh was simply a national pastime, today's Gulesh is an attribute of national Azerbaijani culture same as dances and music. The tournaments are accompanied by music (as in ancient time) to melodious sounds of zurna and rumbling of drums. Gulesh wrestlers are called pekhlevans.

By the way, in ancient times pekhlevans competed right on the village ground. In Baku , Ganja and Ordubad there have survived special buildings - zorkhana. Present day sports complexes are built with arena and amphitheater for spectators, with beautiful domes and carpets. In zorkhana there were tournaments, practices; people could listen to music and songs about warriors' victories.

The prelude to wrestling is called "meidan-gazmek". It is a kind of warming-up, a ritual dance: slender bare-breasted fighters dressed in loose trousers patterned with embroidery wearing soft belts. The rivals smoothly move on a circle on both sides of the carpet alternately swing hands upwards and backwards. Then they drop on the floor and while bending arms touch the ground several times with their chests. Then they jump up and greet each other with a wide salutatory gesture. It is a salam - a polite sign of salutation. After that they come to the center of the carpet and hit each other three times with left and right shoulders alternatively then jump from each other ready to fight.

Now their objective is to try various grips. There are a lot of swift movements; the wrestlers seize one another by trousers or legs, use backheels and throws. Gulesh rules practically do not constrain the wrestlers' initiative. Throat clutching, punches and kicks below stomach level are forbidden. It is not allowed to throw the opponent without following him, twist arms, legs and fingers, push the rival's body with head. Long time ago pekhlevans used to wear pieces of mirror on their knees to show that they never touch a carpet with them. Today in order to win it is necessary to throw the opponent on both his shoulder blades. These days' regular Gulesh competitions on all levels are held in Azerbaijan.