Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling began in Rumelia in the 14th century during the Ottoman Empire. With its lengthy history, Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival is one of the world’s oldest wrestling festivals. Oil wrestling is a style of wrestling in which wrestlers (pehlivan) compete on grass after being smeared in olive oil and wearing leather leggings (kispet) secured with a rope at the waist and cuff. It is open to men of all cultures, regions, and ages, with no language, religious, or racial barriers. Thousands of people flock to Edirne every year to see wrestlers compete for the Kirkpinar Golden Belt and the title of Chief Wrestler.
Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival
The festival dates back to the 1360s, when Ottoman Sultan Orhan (1326-1362) wanted to keep his warriors in top physical shape and ready for warfare. To be invited, master wrestlers or Pehlivans must be trained in the art of wrestling and must have proven good or moral character attributes. The Krkpnar Aas (Krkpnar Master) invites the pehlivans to the Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival based on their particular traits and skills. Invitations to the event are sent out by the Krkpnar Aas in the same traditional way as they have been for centuries: by sending a candle with a crimson base to the nominated pehlivans at the beginning of March.
From the invitation through the awards ceremony, the Krkpnar Oil Wrestling championships contain a variety of ceremonies. The Historic Krkpnar Wrestling contests usually take place at the end of June or the beginning of July and last for seven days. On Friday, prayers are held for the wrestlers, which kicks off the festivities. The wrestling matches take place on a field in Sarayiçi, one of Edirne’s most popular recreational areas. The victorious wrestler receives the title of Chief Wrestler as well as the golden belt for a year, which is a highly coveted reward. A wrestler who wins the Chief Wrestler title for three years in a row obtains the golden belt permanently.
Symbols and Ceremonies
When the pehlivans and other festival participants arrive, they will first partake in Friday prayers, dressed in their leather trousers or “kispet.” The prayers that mark the beginning of the festival are especially important because they envelop the festival and its attendees in a divine blessing.
Following the prayers, the Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival travels to its customary venue in Sarayiçi, one of Edirne’s most prominent recreational destinations and a key emblem of the city, which is entrenched in the event’s history. Every year, over 2.000 men battle for the title of Başpehlivan on this place (Chief Wrestler). The golden belt, the greatest distinction, is given to the victor of three consecutive festivals.
The “yac” coats each man in olive oil before the wrestling begins (oiler). The two opponents then enter the “er meydan” (Contest Field) to the customary sounds of 20 zurna (folk oboes) and 20 davul (bass drums), where they observe the peşrev, the match’s ritual start. Each pehlivan takes three steps forward, three steps back, the left knee to the ground, the right hand to the right knee, the lips and forehead three times, and finally the right hand to the right knee.
The final step is to lunge forward and yell, “Hayda bre pehlivan!” (Go for it, wrestler!) The wrestlers then assume their grip-stance. The object of the game is to pin your opponent’s back to the ground, force him to sit, pull down his trousers, or carry him without making contact with the ground in three steps. Judges are looking to determine if the rules are being followed or if the wrestlers have been successful in forcing their rival to concede.