S. leyman Pasa, having conquered strongholds and cities throughout Thrace, encamped at Samona (Ahirky) on the outskirts of Hadrianopolis with forty warriors. As was often the custom during the halt, the warriors would organize wrestling matches. The last two remaining in the contest went on wrestling matches. The last two remaining in the contest went on wrestling until one of them managed to overcome the other. On a subsequent occasion, which coincided with the annual Spring Festival, the two contestants resumed the match and wrestled uninterruptedly all through the night. The match came to an end only because the two of them died of exhaustion. They were buried under a fig tree. When their companions returned to the spot some time after they found an abundance of natural springs. And that was how the place was given the name of kirkpinar (forty springs). As a later date, in memory of the two heroes and to anticipate the conquest of Hadrianopolis (that was to be renamed Edirne and become the capital of the Ottoman Empire), the Sultan Murad I inaugurated the first wrestling contest.
So the kirkpinar contest, like the ancient games, originates from a funeral celebration.
The wrestlers (pehlivan), naked to the waist, wear strong finely-made leather breeches, down to their calves (kispet). From a huge bowl, placed at the edge of the field, they take olive oil and spread it over their bodies and clothing. The practice of unction is perhaps one of the more apparent references to the continuity of ancient customs in Turkish wrestling.
The contests take place
in the open air on grass-covered terrain, to the accompaniment of the obsessive beat of drums (davul) and zurna, double-reeded wind instruments that have accompanied the contests since ancient times. The person who deals with the organization and funding of the contest and ensures the regularity of the meetings is the aga, who is appointed at the end of the previous yearís contest. He is the highest bidder at the auction of a sheep. The cazgtr or salvatÁt is the master of ceremonies, the one who presents the wrestlers to the public and, reciting poetry and prayers, summons them to fight. The preparatory phase before the match is called pesrev. At the insistent sound of the davul and zurna, the wrestlers raise their arms in rhythm to the music and step forward and back three times. And so they begin their ritual of greeting and prayer.
The athletes, side by side, and in front of the jury, bend their right knee to the ground, place their left hand on their belts and bow forward lightly touching the ground with their right hand, bringing it then to their heart, lips and forehead. Some of them even pluck a blade of grass from the field and chew on it. Then they get up with their heads bowed in great solemnity. The greeting is followed by several moments of jumping up and down and goading each other onto the cry of hayda pehlivanlar.
And now begins the approach phase for the contestants that have been drawn together, who, before the wrestling starts, hug each other several times on alternate sides, then touch each otherís calves, back and neck. Finally they shake hands a few times and the match begins. The athletes, whose number today can reach a thousand, are divided into categories and victory is conceded in various ways: the opponent with both shoulders on the ground or in a position of clear inferiority, or thrown on one side so that the shoulder and hip are touching the ground at the same time, (and this is a peculiarity of turkish wrestling) lifted off the ground and carried three paces.
The winner of the annual contest
is called baspehlivan, and if he wins for three consecutive years, he receives a golden belt (altin kemer). In addition to pecuniary awards, sheep, horses and bulls are also distributed as prizes, as was the custom in ancient times.