RIDVAN: Baha’is celebrate 150th anniversary of 12-day festival

Fountain in elaborate garden with trees

A portion of the Garden of Ridvan. Photo in public domain

SUNDAY, APRIL 21-THURSDAY, MAY 2: Baha’s around the world are celebrating an event 150 years ago in a garden of paradise. In that beautiful setting, Baha’u’llah initiated his prophethood, signaling a 12-day period that would become known as “The Most Great Festival”—or Ridvan. For a period of 12 days in 1863, Baha’u’llah inhabited the Najibiyyih Garden (calling it the Garden of Ridvan, literally Paradise) before beginning his journey to Constantinople. Today, Baha’is hold sacred these 12 days, particularly the first, ninth and 12th days. (Learn more from the Baha’i Library.) Amid several announcements and tablets produced in the garden, Baha’u’llah officially declared his mission as the one foretold by the Bab.

Two decades before Baha’u’llah’s time in the Garden of Ridvan, a Persian man known as Siyyid Ali-Muhammad began proclaiming that he was “The Bab” (Arabic for The Gate), and that a Messianic figure would soon be coming. Followers, known as Babis, began slowly growing in numbers. (Wikipedia has details.) Time passed, and a prisoner in Iran known as Baha’u’llah received a revelation: that he was the Promised One of the Bab. Nonetheless, Baha’u’llah kept quiet about his revelation for 11 years, all the while gaining more leadership within the Babi community. Finally, Baha’u’llah received so much attention that governments and enemies of the Babi feared a threat, and Baha’u’llah was asked to leave. To allow his family time to pack for the journey to Constantinople, Baha’u’llah spent 12 days in the Garden of Ridvan. (View photos of the garden at Bahaullah.org.)

BAHA’U’LLAH AND MUHAMMAD

In a move he compared with Muhammad’s journey from Mecca to Medina, Baha’u’llah departed from his “Most Great House” in Baghdad to the Garden of Ridvan. As hoards of visitors had come to see Baha’u’llah in the weeks before his departure from Baghdad, he moved to the garden to receive the final crowds. Along with his sons, secretary and a few others, Baha’u’llah arrived in the garden two hours before sunset. On that first afternoon, Baha’u’llah made three critical announcements: one, that religious war would no longer be permitted for Babis; two, that there would not be another Manifestation of God for 1,000 years; and three, that all the names of God are fully manifest in all things. Furthermore, Baha’u’llah announced his identity as a Manifestation of God, thus forming the beginnings of the Baha’i faith.

THE NINTH AND TWELFTH DAYS

In addition to the First Day of Ridvan, Baha’is suspend work and school on the Ninth Day and the Twelfth Day. On the Ninth Day, Baha’u’llah’s family joined him in the garden; on the Twelfth Day, the group departed for Constantinople.

NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL SPIRITUAL ASSEMBLIES COMMENCE

The Baha’i administrative year begins today, on the First Day of Ridvan, and local spiritual assemblies also are elected. National and international spiritual assemblies will be elected later in Ridvan. (Note: International spiritual assemblies are held every five years, with 2013 being a participating year. The Eleventh International Baha’i Convention will be held April 25-May 2, 2013, in Haifa, Israel.)