Baha’i Festival of Ridvan

 

Garden of Ridvan, Baghdad
Garden of Ridvan, Baghdad

“Verily, all created things were immersed in the sea of purification when, on that first day of Ridván, We shed upon the whole of creation the splendours of Our most excellent Names and Our most exalted Attributes.” (Baha’u’llah, Kitab-i-Aqdas)

In 1853 Bahá’u’lláh’s was chained in an underground reservoir, called the Siyah-Chal (The Black Hole), eventually to be executed. After intervention by the Russian embassy, the Persian government sent him into exile to Baghdad.

Bahá’u’lláh stayed in Baghdad for ten years. 2 years he spent in isolation in the Mountains of Sulaymaniyah before returning to Baghdad where her met many Persian pilgrims, political exile, local princes, and ordinary people. As his popularity rose, the Persian government put pressure on the Ottoman Government to exile Him away from the Persian border. The plots of the Persian Government failed to impress the Ottoman Government who stood by Baha’u’llah until the Persian empire withdrew diplomatic relations.

The Ottomans agreed to exile Baha’u’llah to Constantinople and the news was conveyed to Baha’u’llah and his family and followers.

Gradually Bahá’u’lláh began to convey His future to His followers. His festive, soul-entrancing poems and writings, the conversations He held and the change in His manner, were full of hints of the prophetic office and leadership He was about to take on. Exaltation and sadness would flood His soul, and a boundless ecstasy filled His lovers’ hearts.

In the night time, His secretary would gather them all together in his room, close the door, and under the light of many fragrant candles, he would chant for them the newly-revealed poems and Writings in his possession. Immersed in the realms of the spirit, they would become oblivious of the world around, and forgetting entirely the need for food, drink or sleep, would suddenly discover night having passed, and the sun approaching noon.

The next few weeks were exceptionally busy. Bahá’u’lláh revealed a personal Tablet for every one of His friends in Baghdad, adult and child alike, writing for them with His Own hand; He received innumerable visitors, and made the practical preparations necessary for the caravan journey. The arrangements required for the journey were exceptionally demanding.

Bahá’u’lláh suggested moving across the River into the garden of one of His friends, and there with Abdu’l-Bahá receive the visitors, freeing the house from the turmoil of people and allowing the family to pack. The Master made the arrangements for Bahá’u’lláh to go to the Garden, and in every way he could, shielded Bahá’u’lláh from the pounding insistence of the world around.

Provisions were moved into the Garden; a tent was set in the centre for Bahá’u’lláh, and other tents were ranged throughout the Garden, forming a little village.

The Garden was blooming with bright red roses, colourful flowers, tulips, and luxuriantly green trees. A pool of water stood in the middle of Bahá’u’lláh’s tent, and everywhere outside, streams of water flowed in all directions. Everyone was devoted to making the Garden more beautiful than it had ever been.

On the appointed afternoon, in the nineteenth year of the Faith, the 22 April 1863, Bahá’u’lláh emerged from the inner room of the House, and set out with Abdu’l-Bahá toward the Garden that lay over the River, ten minutes from the City gate. On His head He now wore conspicuously a taj, a tall, beautifully-adorned felt hat that He from that moment on would wear throughout His ministry.

People of every rank, nationality and walk of life gathered from all quarters of the City and thronged the approaches of His house: men and women of every age, friends and strangers from every social class, the poor, the orphaned and the outcast, merchants, notables, clerics and officials, the vast majority unconnected to the Faith, the Bahá’í ladies congregating together in the courtyard; all waited, amazed, heartbroken and apprehensive.

As Bahá’u’lláh stepped outside, a rush of people poured forward from all directions, humbling themselves before Him, weeping greatly. Bahá’u’lláh stood for some time amidst the weeping and the lamenting hearts, speaking words of comfort, and promising to receive each of them later in the Garden. They were lamenting the departure of One Who, for a decade, had imparted to them the warmth of His love, and the radiance of His spirit, Who had been the refuge and guide for all.

Everyone was crying, pressing in to approach Bahá’u’lláh, to hear His words, touch Him or receive a comforting glance, howling and weeping at their loss, seeing no more value in life. Bahá’u’lláh bade each person farewell, caressing and soothing everyone.

Such grief they had, that all those who were to accompany Bahá’u’lláh sorrowed along with those to be left behind.

The streets and housetops all along His way were crowded with Bahá’u’lláh’s friends; such a commotion, Baghdad had rarely seen. Upon the way, and with an open hand, Bahá’u’lláh provided to the poor He had so faithfully befriended, uttering words of comfort to the disconsolate as they pleaded with Him on every side, until, at long last, Bahá’u’lláh managed to reach the banks of the River Tigris. As He prepared to cross, He entrusted the city of Baghdad to His devoted friends, that through their deeds and conduct, the flame of love would continue to glow within the hearts of its people.

Bahá’u’lláh boarded a small boat waiting for Him; the people pressed all around Him, wishing to be in His Presence for as long as they could.

The boat pushed off, and ferried Bahá’u’lláh across the water, in company with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Purest Branch (a son), another of His sons, and His secretary, and the companions on the bank all watched with sorrowing hearts as He receded into the distance.

For twelve days Bahá’u’lláh stayed in the Garden that He called Ridvan. Ridvan means ‘good pleasure’. It is used in the Qur’an for God’s satisfaction with the believers in heaven. The angel standing before paradise is called Ridvan, and so the word has thereby come to convey ‘paradise’. Here Baha’u’llah would be found each day in the utmost joy, walking majestically in the flower-lined avenues and amongst the trees.

The friends living in Baghdad would come during the day and return home each night, whilst others would be engaged in service to those in the Garden.

Eminent rulers, clergy and jurists would come continuously to Bahá’u’lláh’s tent with their insoluble problems, and take their leave satisfied with their dilemmas entirely solved.

Each day in the Garden, before the sun had dawned, the gardeners would pick the roses which lined the four avenues and pile them up in the centre of the floor inside Bahá’u’lláh’s tent. So great would be the heap that His companions gathering to drink their morning tea in His presence would be unable to see each other across it. Bahá’u’lláh would entrust these roses with His own hands to the friends He would send out each morning, and on His behalf to be delivered to His Arab and Persian friends in the city.

Food was brought from the house of Bahá’u’lláh in Baghdad, where His family was still in residence, and also from another house. There was much wind for some days, and Bahá’u’lláh’s tent was swaying about. The friends took it in turns throughout the night and day to sit and keep the tent ropes steady in case it might be blown down, their whole happiness in so doing, being to be so nearby Bahá’u’lláh.

Bahá’u’lláh would summon a number of His companions to Him each day, and dismiss them in the evening. Those without family ties were allowed to remain for the night, with the remainder returning to their homes.

Every morning and afternoon, Bahá’u’lláh would speak of His Cause radiating forth the utmost joy.

The notables and ordinary devoted people of the City, yearning to visit Bahá’u’lláh, were unable to bear their separation, and would arrive from Baghdad each day in streams and a succession of waves, offering their last farewell, and would take their leave with feelings of profound sorrow.

On the fifth night, one of the companions was watching beside Bahá’u’lláh’s tent and keeping the ropes steady; as midnight approached, Bahá’u’lláh came out from His tent, and passed by the places where some of His companions were sleeping. He began to pace up and down the moonlit, flower-bordered avenues of the garden. The nightingales were singing so loudly on every side, only those nearby could make out Bahá’u’lláh’s voice. He continued to walk, and paused amidst an avenue. He observed how the nightingales were sleepless from dusk till dawn enraptured with their love for the roses, communing in a burning passion of melody. How, He asked, could those afire with the rose-like beauty of the Beloved, choose to sleep?

On the 8th Day in the Garden, Baha’u’llah called ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to His tent, and there disclosed in clear terms that He was the One Manifest by God.

As the Master heard these soul-stirring words, He understood why the Manifestation had once more received such persecution, and He came to see, as a radiant vision, the world of the future when the divine Message will have changed the heart of the world. From that moment onward, a new and increased joy and devotion took possession of him, and he consecrated his whole self, body, soul and spirit, to the sacred work of the Cause.

Later, within the Garden, Bahá’u’lláh made the same declaration to four others. The time was not yet to come for a public declaration, and He enjoined these few to keep their understanding secret.

On the ninth day, the River settled down and the flood-waters receded, allowing those in the old eastern side of the City to cross the boat bridge. The family of Bahá’u’lláh moved into the Garden, and the River overflowed a second time.

On the 12th Day, the flooding subsided again on the twelfth day, and everyone went across the River to enter the presence of Bahá’u’lláh. As the 12th day at last came to a close, Bahá’u’lláh announced that He would be leaving the coming afternoon.

This news spread; throughout the final day, visitors and the authorities of Baghdad thronged to the garden to present their final farewells.

The next day, Baha’u’llah and His family and a group of followers left Baghdad for Constantinople. During His many years in Baghdad, Bahá’u’lláh had always chosen to ride a donkey rather than a horse. Towards sunset, amidst all the commotion, his lovers brought over an Arabian horse of the finest breed, the best they could afford. As Bahá’u’lláh’s foot reached the stirrup, the red stallion bent its knees, and lowered itself, causing the people to lament ever louder. Bahá’u’lláh spoke to the horse approvingly, and this remark burnt the hearts of everyone, until they became wholly unconscious of themselves. Bahá’u’lláh showered everyone with sweet words of consolation, and He waved farewell to all. As He mounted and was ready to depart, there was a great outpouring of grief. The lamentation, anguish and heart-rending, unbearable cries of distress of the friends and the sorrow and mourning of all the people was such that no one can ever depict. Time and again the call, ‘God is the Greatest!’ rang out from amongst the crowd.

 

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