Ridvan: Baha’is observe ‘most great festival’ for 12 days

Baha'i temple U.S. Ridvan

The Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by Shutter Runner, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET MONDAY, APRIL 19 through SUNSET SATURDAY, MAY 1: The most holy Baha’i festival worldwide is the 12-day period known as Ridvan. Named “Ridvan” for “paradise,” this sacred festival commemorates Baha’u’llah’s time in the Najibiyyih Garden—after he was exiled by the Ottoman Empire—and the first announcement of his prophethood. For Baha’is, Ridvan is the “King of Festivals,” and the first, ninth and 12th days are occasions for work and school to be suspended.

RIDVAN: BAHA’U’LLAH IN THE GARDEN

The story of Ridvan actually begins years before Baha’u’llah revealed his identity and took up temporary residence in the Najibiyyih Garden, with a man who called himself “the Bab” (translated, the Gate). The year was 1844 CE when Siyyid Ali-Muhammad, of Shiraz, made the proclamation that he was the Bab—and that a Messianic figure was coming. Nine years later, the man known as Baha’u’llah experienced a revelation while imprisoned in Tehran, Iran: he was the Promised One foretold of by the Bab.

After release from prison, Baha’u’llah settled in Baghdad, which was becoming the center of the Babi (followers of the Bab) movement. Though he made no open claims related to his revelation, Baha’u’llah slowly began attracting more and more Babi followers. The growing Babi community, along with Baha’u’llah’s increasing popularity, caused the government to exile Baha’u’llah from Baghdad to Constantinople. (Learn more from the Baha’i Library Online.) After having packed his things, Baha’u’llah stayed in the Najibiyyih garden to both receive visitors and allow his family sufficient time to pack for the journey.

Precisely 31 days after Naw-Ruz, on April 22, 1863, Baha’u’llah moved to a garden across the Tigris River from Baghdad with his sons, secretary and a few others. In the Najibiyyih Garden, Baha’u’llah announced his prophetic mission to a small group of close friends and family. In addition, Baha’ullah made three announcements: that religious war was not permissible; that there would not be another Manifestation of God for 1,000 years; and that all the names of God are fully manifest in all things. For 11 days, Baha’u’llah stayed in the Najibiyyih Garden. On the ninth day, the rest of his family joined him; on the 12th day, the entire group departed for Constantinople.

THE ‘MOST GREAT FESTIVAL’

During Ridvan, those of the Baha’i community gather, pray and hold celebrations.

Local Spiritual Assemblies—that is, the governing bodies of Baha’i communities worldwide—are elected on the first day of Ridvan.

NEWS: SHRINE OF ABDU’L-BAHA UNDERWAY

Construction of the Shrine of Abdu’l-Baha in Akka, Israel, has been underway since January 2020, and it was recently announced that the concrete floor slab was poured for the main edifice and the surrounding plaza. The floor of the central area is among the first elements of the project to reach its final form. Baha’i.org has the story, along with archives of construction milestones.

 

Nowruz, Naw-Ruz, Ugadi and Ostara: Welcome spring

spring image, Nowruz

Photo by seznandy, courtesy of Pixabay

SATURDAY, MARCH 20 and SUNDAY, MARCH 21: All across the Northern Hemisphere, men, women and children welcome the season of spring, marked by the vernal equinox. This ancient cycle fuels celebrations worldwide:

  • In many parts of the Middle East and Asia, the ancient holiday is known as Nowruz; for Bahai’s, it’s Naw-Ruz.
  • For many Hindus, it’s Ugadi.
  • For Pagans and Wiccans, it’s Ostara.

Though the names and specific rituals may differ, the theme is joy in the promise of new life that comes in the spring season. As the darkness of winter lifts, communities rejoice. Whether it’s Kurds in Turkey jumping over fires, Iranians sprouting grains or Wiccans discussing the symbolism of the egg, all embrace the rejuvenation of the season.

NORTHERN SPRING AND THE VERNAL EQUINOX

On March 20 at 5:37 a.m. EDT, the 2021 vernal equinox will occur—and for those in the Northern Hemisphere, that signals springtime. Though day and night are not exactly equal in duration on the equinox—that event is known as equilux, and varies by location—the plane of the Earth’s Equator passes the center of the sun on the equinoxes. During the equinox, length of daylight is (theoretically) the same at all points on the Earth.

In Chinese belief, spring is associated with a green dragon and the direction east: the green dragon for the green sprouts of spring, and east as the direction of sunrise and the beginning of each day.

Haft-sin table, Nowruz

A Haft-sin table. Photo by Hamed Saber, courtesy of Flickr

NOWRUZ: THE HAFT-SIN TABLE

Spellings vary widely, but across much of the Middle East, Central and South Asia—Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and more—as well as by Zoroastrians and other religious and ethnic groups, the vernal equinox marks Nowruz, the New Year holiday.

Classified among UNESCO’s Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, the Iranian/Persian New Year dates back hundreds of years BCE. Many believe that Nowruz is rooted in Zoroastrianism and was started by Zarathustra, though some place the festival’s origin centuries before Zoroaster.

Nowruz dawns as the first day of spring and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar. Nowruz is a very important holiday in Iran and for Zoroastrians. Extensive spring cleaning begins a month prior to Nowruz, and new clothing is bought in anticipation of the 12-day celebrations that include numerous visits to family and friends. Prior and sometimes during the festival, fires are lit that reflect the Zoroastrian perspective on light’s victory over darkness. Many Iranians put up a Haft Sin table, covered with seven symbolic items. Items vary slightly but may include apples, mirrors, candles, sprouted wheat or barley, painted eggs, rose water, dried fruit, garlic, vinegar, coins and a holy book. Parsi Zoroastrians set up a “sesh” tray, filled with rose water, a betel nut, raw rice, raw sugar, flowers, a wick in a glass and a picture of Zarathustra. On the 13th day of the New Year festival, families head outdoors for picnics, music and dancing.

NAW-RUZ: BAHA’I NEW YEAR

Baha’is have been fasting for the past month, and on Naw-Ruz, that fast is broken—a celebration of the Baha’i New Year. Naw-Ruz was instituted by Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith, as a time for great joy. No set rituals exist for Naw-Ruz, but most Baha’is gather for a meal and read sacred Baha’i writings. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah, described the equinox as a symbol of the messengers of God, with their message as the spiritual springtime that is Naw-Ruz.

UGADI: RELIGIOUS FORECAST; SIX TASTES

For Hindus and the people of the Deccan region of India, this time of year bring (Y)ugadi, derived from Sanskrit as “the beginning of a new age.” Names for the festival vary by region, but across India, Ugadi specifically refers to the start of our current age, Kali Yuga. According to Hindu legend, Kali Yuga began in 3102 BCE, at the moment Lord Krishna left the world. On Yugadi, people traditionally gather to listen to the recitation of the religious almanac of the new year—or, in other words, a forecast of the coming year. Hindus used to gather in temples to hear the Ugadi forecast, but today, priest-scholar recitations can be viewed on television or the almanac might be read by an elder in other settings.

On this auspicious day, extended families gather and ritual baths are taken before prayers. Carefully cleaned homes welcome visitors with an entrance draped in fresh mango leaves. In many regions, a dish of six tastes is partaken with a symbolism that represents the varied experiences of life. Most commonly, neem buds and flowers symbolize sadness; jaggery and banana signify happiness; green chili peppers represent anger; salt indicates fear; taramind juice symbolizes disgust; and unripened mango translates to surprise.

OSTARA: PAGANS AND WICCANS CELEBRATE

Symbols of eggs and rabbits illustrate the Pagan and Wiccan holiday of Ostara, known also for the goddess of spring by the same name. Ostara, or Eostre, is the ancient goddess of spring and dawn who presides over fertility, conception and pollination. Symbols of eggs and rabbits represent the fertility of springtime, and in centuries past, these symbols were often used in fertility rituals. The next full moon, also called Ostara, is known as a time of increased births.

As the trees begin to bud and new plants emerge, modern Pagans and Wiccans fast from winter’s heavy foods and partake in the fresh vegetables and herbs of springtime. (Learn more from Wicca.com.) Traditional foods for this time are leafy green vegetables, dairy foods, nuts and sprouts; favored activities include planting a garden and taking a walk in nature.

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World Religion Day: Baha’is celebrate 70 years of recognizing religious similarities

“O Thou kind Lord! Unite all. Let the religions agree and make the nations one, so that they may see each other as one family and the whole earth as one home.”
Portion of a Baha’i prayer, frequently read on World Religion Day

Multiple religions checked against world graphic

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

SUNSET SATURDAY, JANUARY 16: Take a few moments to consider unity through diversity, joining Baha’is on this, the 70th observation of World Religion Day.

Initiated in 1950, World Religion Day follows an essential tenet of the Baha’i religion: the belief that all religions are one, with each prophet or messenger delivering God’s truth for his time and place. Though deeply engrained in the faith, the call to “consort with followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship” is particularly emphasized on World Religion Day. When a feeling of oneness amid world religions is lacking, Baha’is believe, true global peace can never be achieved.

Established by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States for the third Sunday of January, World Religion Day brings interfaith panels and discussions, conferences and multi-faith gatherings to Baha’i communities—many of which will be held virtually, this year. While followers of Baha’u’llah’s religion recognize Baha’u’llah in a primary way—as one who brought a message of unity that is essential for our time—adherents also accept such religious figures as Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad. World Religion Day was created to raise awareness of similarities between the spiritual principles of various faiths.

A United Nations week devoted to interfaith: The first week of February, the United Nations will observe Interfaith Harmony Week. This week is devoted to encouraging dialogue among faiths and recognition of similarities.

Martyrdom of the Bab: Baha’is mark anniversary, inexplicable events

House of worship white building with gardens in front

A Bahai House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. Photo by Adib Roy, courtesy of Flickr

Note: Baha’i days begin at sunset.

SUNSET MONDAY, JULY 8: The world’s more than 5 million Baha’is pause to recall the solemn anniversary of their religious founder’s public execution at noon on July 9, for the Martyrdom of the Bab. As one of nine holy days of the year, the Martyrdom of the Bab commemorates the anniversary of an event that occurred on this date in 1850. The events that ensued on the day of his death, however, have left millions in awe for more than a century.

Interested in a Baha’i perspective of the harmony between science and religion? Check out this TEDx talk on YouTube.

PERSIA, BABI AND THE BAB

The era was 19th century Persia, and a man who called himself the Bab—translated, meaning the Gate—had begun attracting followers. Despite attempts by authorities, passion for his Babi religion ran wide and deep. Muhammad Shah would not execute the Bab, but his successor, Nasiri’d-Din Shah, was advised to kill the Bab. And so, it was announced that the Bab, along with any followers, would be executed.

THE EXECUTION AND FINAL CONVERSATION

According to Baha’i tradition: At the time of the Bab’s execution, when the head attendant was ordered to bring the Bab before the chief religious officials of the City of Tabriz to obtain death warrants, the attendant found the Bab in private conversation with his secretary, Siyyid Husayn. The Bab warned that, “Not until I have said to him all those things that I wish to say can any earthly power silence me.”

As the traditional Baha’i story is retold: The Bab was brought to the center of the city to be executed by soldiers, but—as he had promised—not one bullet touched him. Tens of thousands of onlookers, gathering on nearby rooftops and in the streets, were shocked when the Bab’s words rang true. The firing squads had, instead, blown apart the rope that had tied the prisoner. The Bab was nowhere to be found.

After frantic searches, the Bab was discovered in a private room, continuing his previously interrupted conversation with Siyyid Husayn. The Bab announced to them, “I have finished my conversation with Siyyid Husayn. Now you may proceed and fulfill your intention.” Several authorities and soldiers were so shaken by the events that they resigned and refused to have anything further to do with the execution. A new firing squad was drawn and brought to the Bab, and when the regiment opened fire, the Bab was killed.

A small group of Baha’is risked their lives to sneak the Bab’s deceased body into a wooden box, where it remained hidden for almost 60 years before being entombed in a shrine on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, where it remains to this day. Today, most Bahai’s observe the holy day with prayers, gatherings and services.

Did you know? A Baha’i House of Worship is open to non-Baha’is as well as Baha’is. Holy scriptures of the world’s religions are recited in Baha’i temples.

 

Intercalary Days and the Nineteen-Day Fast: Baha’is celebrate unity, fast

White walkway, open-air, with poles and blue shutters overlooking gardens below

A walkway and gardens at the Mansion of Bahji, now a shrine in the Baha’i faith and located in Israel. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

  • SUNSET MONDAY, FEBRUARY 25: Baha’is begin a period of special, “outside of time” days to correct their annual calendar.
  • SUNSET FRIDAY, MARCH 1: Baha’is begin the 19-day month of Ala, which is a fasting month in preparation for the Baha’i New year.

AYYAM-I-HA (DAYS OF HA)

Sacred days “outside of time” begin for members of the Baha’i faith as the festival of Ayyam-i-Ha, or Intercalary Days, commences. Until sunset on March 1, Baha’is mark a break in their 19-month calendar: the “extra days” are used to bring awareness to God’s oneness, along with a focus on charity and unity.

Ayyam-i-Ha—literally, the Days of Ha—plays on a double meaning of “Ha”: Ha, the first letter of an Arabic pronoun commonly used to refer to God, is used as a symbol of the essence of God in Baha’i writings; the Arabic abjad system designates the letter Ha as having a numerical value of five, which has always been the maximum number of days allowed for the period of Ayyam-i-Ha.

Baha’u’llah designated that Ayyam-i-Ha should be filled with “good cheer” and “joy and exultation”—for Baha’is, their kindred and for recipients of the Baha’is’ charity.

Important update! As of March 20, 2015, the Baha’i calendar has reflected changes made by the Universal House of Justice: Naw-Ruz (New Year) now falls on the Vernal Equinox, as opposed to being fixed on the Gregorian March 21.

When the Bab began creating a calendar for the new Babi religion in the 1840s, intercalation (which is not practiced in Islam) was implemented to differentiate it from the existing Islamic calendar. When the Bab did not specify where the Intercalary Days should be inserted, Baha’u’llah—the one foretold of by the Bab—designated that they should be placed before the fasting month of Ala. Today, Baha’is still observe the Nineteen-Day Fast throughout the entire month of Ala. A New Year begins the day after Ala ends.

THE NINETEEN-DAY FAST

 With the festive days of Ayyim-i-Ha behind, Baha’is enter the final month of the calendar year with the Nineteen-Day Fast. For the entire final month of the Baha’i calendar year—Ala, which lasts 19 days—Baha’is observe a sunrise-to-sunset fast. Many Baha’is regard the Nineteen-Day Fast as one of the greatest obligations of their faith.

Instituted by the Bab and revised by Baha’u’llah, the Nineteen-Day Fast is intended to bring a person closer to God. According to the Bab, the true purpose of the fast is to abstain from everything except divine love. Fasting guidelines, exemptions and more are in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha’u’llah’s book of laws.

Martyrdom of the Bab: Baha’is pray, gather to remember founder

Domed building against blue sky

A Baha’i temple in Uganda. Photo by Philip Songa, courtesy of Flickr

SUNSET SUNDAY, JULY 8: Upward of 5 million Baha’is around the world pause to recall in solemnity the anniversary of their religious founder’s public execution at noon on July 9, for the Martyrdom of the Bab. As one of nine holy days of the year, the Martyrdom of the Bab commemorates the anniversary of an event that occurred on this date in 1850. The events that ensued on the day of his death, however, have left millions in awe for more than a century. (Note: Baha’i days begin at sunset.)

The era was 19th century Persia, and a man who called himself the Bab—translated, meaning the Gate—had begun attracting followers. Despite attempts by authorities, passion for his Babi religion ran wide and deep. Muhammad Shah would not execute the Bab, but his successor, Nasiri’d-Din Shah, was advised to kill the Bab. And so, it was announced that the Bab, along with any followers, would be executed.

THE BAB: EXECUTION AND THE FINAL CONVERSATION

According to Baha’i tradition: At the time of the Bab’s execution, when the head attendant was ordered to bring the Bab before the chief religious officials of the City of Tabriz to obtain death warrants, the attendant found the Bab in private conversation with his secretary, Siyyid Husayn. The Bab warned that, “Not until I have said to him all those things that I wish to say can any earthly power silence me.”

As the traditional Baha’i story is retold: The Bab was brought to the center of the city to be executed by soldiers, but—as he had promised—not one bullet touched him. Tens of thousands of onlookers, gathering on nearby rooftops and in the streets, were shocked when the Bab’s words rang true. The firing squads had, instead, blown apart the rope that had tied the prisoner. The Bab was nowhere to be found.

After frantic searches, the Bab was discovered in a private room, continuing his previously interrupted conversation with Siyyid Husayn. The Bab announced to them, “I have finished my conversation with Siyyid Husayn. Now you may proceed and fulfill your intention.” Several authorities and soldiers were so shaken by the events that they resigned and refused to have anything further to do with the execution. A new firing squad was drawn and brought to the Bab, and when the regiment opened fire, the Bab was killed.

A small group of Baha’is risked their lives to sneak the Bab’s deceased body into a wooden box, where it remained hidden for almost 60 years before being entombed in a shrine on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, where it remains to this day. Today, most Bahai’s observe the holy day with prayers, gatherings and services.

IN THE NEWS: COLOMBIA TEMPLE ADVANCES TOWARD COMPLETION

Symbol on white

The Baha’i Greatest Name symbol. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

As announced by the Baha’i Universal House of Justice in 2012, a “local House of Worship”—one of five planned—is nearing completion, in Colombia. Six years ago, the Universal House of Justice announced the building of the first two national Baha’i temples and plans for consultations for the creation of a local House of Worship in five regions of the world; in Colombia, the “crowning piece” of the temple, the Greatest Name symbol, was recently raised to the building’s apex. (Read the story here.) The Greatest Name is a calligraphic representation that is placed in every Baha’i temple, and in the new Colombian temple, the symbol was made to reflect a local ion: the blooming cocoa flower.

Fast fact: A Baha’i House of Worship is open to non-Baha’is as well as Baha’is. Holy scriptures of the world’s religions are recited in Baha’i temples.

Declaration of the Bab: Baha’is commemorate a joyous holiday

Well tended gardens

A Baha’i garden. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

SUNSET WEDNESDAY, MAY 23: Baha’i communities across the globe commemorate the anniversary of the Declaration of the Bab, made on this night in 1844. Though the roots of this story began decades earlier—in 1783, precisely—it was not until this pivotal night that the Bab correctly answered a series of questions that revealed he was the Promised One. Mulla Husayn became the first to accept the Bab’s claims, and soon after, followers of the Bab became known as Babis.

THE SEARCH: LOOKING FOR A PROMISED ONE

According to Baha’i tradition: The search for “the Gate” began years before the Bab’s birth, in 1783, with a man named Shaykh Ahmad-i-ahsa’i. He began traveling through Persia with the announcement that a great day was coming: a day that would see a Promised One. Later, a follower of his teachings, Mulla Husayn,—who would find the Bab. (For details, visit Bahai.org.) Though the identity of the Promised One remained secret, it was through a series of descriptions, questions and seemingly impossible tasks that Persian merchant Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi convinced Mulla Husayn that he was the bearer of divine knowledge. This evening is now celebrated by Baha’is as the Declaration of the Bab. (For a meditative prayer set to music, visit New York Bahai.)

Following the 1844 proclamations, which were later made public, Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi took the name of the Bab (Arabic for “gate”) and began writing. The Bab penned his messianic claims, teachings and new religious law. In a few short years, the Bab had acquired thousands of followers. (Learn more from the Baha’i Blog.) Starkly opposed by other clergy and the government, thousands of Babis were persecuted and killed. In 1850, at the age of 30, the Bab was executed by a firing squad—though not before finding Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i faith and the messenger of God whom the Bab had spoken of.