Ridván Festival, The Twelve Days of Ridván
Late in April of 1863, an event occurred which millions of people around the globe now recognize as a turning point in the history of our world. Its setting was a garden on an island in the Tigris River just outside the city of Baghdad. There, near the traditional site where the first stirrings of civilization had occurred six thousand years earlier, a young Persian nobleman named Bahá'u'lláh called together a handful of friends and followers, and made a staggering announcement to them. In words that shook their hearts and forever changed their lives, Bahá'u'lláh revealed Himself as theMessenger of God to our age, the Promised One Whom the Scriptures of every religion on earth had cautioned their believers some day to expect. For those who heard the words spoken that day by the river, and for the thousands who were soon to follow them, age-old barriers of creed, class and race began to crumble.
"O ye lovers of the one true God!... This is the Day in whichGod's most excellent favours have been poured out upon men, the Day in which His most mighty grace hath been infused into all created things. It is incumbent upon all the peoples of the earth to reconcile their differences and, with perfect unity and peace, abide beneath the shadow of the Tree of His care...
The First Day of Ridvan
The first day Bahá'u'lláh entered the garden of Ridván
The arrival of Bahá’u’lláh in the Najíbíyyih Garden, subsequently designated by His followers the Garden of Ridván, signalizes the commencement of what has come to be recognized as the holiest and most significant of all Bahá’í festivals, the festival commemorating the Declaration of His Mission to His companions. So momentous a Declaration may well be regarded both as the logical consummation of that revolutionizing process which was initiated by Himself upon His return from Sulaymáníyyih, and as a prelude to the final proclamation of that same Mission to the world and its rulers from Adrianople.
Through that solemn act the “delay,” of no less than a decade, divinely interposed between the birth of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation in the Síyáh-Chál and its announcement to the Báb’s disciples, was at long last terminated. The “set time of concealment,” during which as He Himself has borne witness, the “signs and tokens of a divinely-appointed Revelation” were being showered upon Him, was fulfilled. The “myriad veils of light,” within which His glory had been wrapped, were, at that historic hour, partially lifted, vouchsafing to mankind “an infinitesimal glimmer” of the effulgence of His “peerless, His most sacred and exalted Countenance.” The “thousand two hundred and ninety days,” fixed by Daniel in the last chapter of His Book, as the duration of the “abomination that maketh desolate” had now elapsed. The “hundred lunar years,” destined to immediately precede that blissful consummation (1335 days), announced by Daniel in that same chapter, had commenced. The nineteen years, constituting the first “Vahíd,” preordained in the Persian Bayán by the pen of the Báb, had been completed. The Lord of the Kingdom, Jesus Christ returned in the glory of the Father, was about to ascend His throne, and assume the sceptre of a world-embracing, indestructible sovereignty. The community of the Most Great Name, the “companions of the Crimson Colored Ark,” lauded in glowing terms in the Qayyúmu’l-Asmá, had visibly emerged. The Báb’s own prophecy regarding the “Ridván,” the scene of the unveiling of Bahá’u’lláh’s transcendent glory, had been literally fulfilled.
The Ninth Day of Ridvan
Bahá'u'lláh family joined Him in the garden!
Of the exact circumstances attending that epoch-making Declaration we, alas, are but scantily informed. The words Bahá’u’lláh actually uttered on that occasion, the manner of His Declaration, the reaction it produced, its impact on Mírzá Yahyá, the identity of those who were privileged to hear Him, are shrouded in an obscurity which future historians will find it difficult to penetrate. The fragmentary description left to posterity by His chronicler Nabíl is one of the very few authentic records we possess of the memorable days He spent in that garden. “Every day,” Nabíl has related, “ere the hour of dawn, the gardeners would pick the roses which lined the four avenues of the garden, and would pile them in the center of the floor of His blessed tent. So great would be the heap that when His companions gathered to drink their morning tea in His presence, they would be unable to see each other across it. All these roses Bahá’u’lláh would, with His own hands, entrust to those whom He dismissed from His presence every morning to be delivered, on His behalf, to His Arab and Persian friends in the city.” “One night,” he continues, “the ninth night of the waxing moon, I happened to be one of those who watched beside His blessed tent. As the hour of midnight approached, I saw Him issue from His tent, pass by the places where some of His companions were sleeping, and begin to pace up and down the moonlit, flower-bordered avenues of the garden. So loud was the singing of the nightingales on every side that only those who were near Him could hear distinctly His voice. He continued to walk until, pausing in the midst of one of these avenues, He observed: ‘Consider these nightingales. So great is their love for these roses, that sleepless from dusk till dawn, they warble their melodies and commune with burning passion with the object of their adoration. How then can those who claim to be afire with the rose-like beauty of the Beloved choose to sleep?’ For three successive nights I watched and circled round His blessed tent. Every time I passed by the couch whereon He lay, I would find Him wakeful, and every day, from morn till eventide, I would see Him ceaselessly engaged in conversing with the stream of visitors who kept flowing in from Baghdád. Not once could I discover in the words He spoke any trace of dissimulation.”
As to the significance of that Declaration let Bahá’u’lláh Himself reveal to us its import. Acclaiming that historic occasion as the “Most Great Festival,” the “King of Festivals,” the “Festival of God,” He has, in His Kitáb-i-Aqdas, characterized it as the Day whereon “all created things were immersed in the sea of purification,” whilst in one of His specific Tablets, He has referred to it as the Day whereon “the breezes of forgiveness were wafted over the entire creation.” “Rejoice, with exceeding gladness, O people of Bahá!”, He, in another Tablet, has written, “as ye call to remembrance the Day of supreme felicity, the Day whereon the Tongue of the Ancient of Days hath spoken, as He departed from His House proceeding to the Spot from which He shed upon the whole of creation the splendors of His Name, the All-Merciful…
“The Divine Springtime is come, O Most Exalted Pen, for the Festival of the All-Merciful is fast approaching…. The Day-Star of Blissfulness shineth above the horizon of Our Name, the Blissful, inasmuch as the Kingdom of the Name of God hath been adorned with the ornament of the Name of Thy Lord, the Creator of the heavens…. Take heed lest anything deter Thee from extolling the greatness of this Day—the Day whereon the Finger of Majesty and Power hath opened the seal of the Wine of Reunion, and called all who are in the heavens and all who are on earth…. This is the Day whereon the unseen world crieth out: ‘Great is thy blessedness, O earth, for thou hast been made the footstool of thy God, and been chosen as the seat of His mighty throne’ …Say … He it is Who hath laid bare before you the hidden and treasured Gem, were ye to seek it. He it is who is the One Beloved of all things, whether of the past or of the future.”
The twelfth Day of Ridvan
Bahá'u'lláh left the garden on His way to Constantinople
The departure of Bahá’u’lláh from the Garden of Ridván, at noon, on the 14th of Dhi’l-Qádih 1279 A.H. (May 3, 1863), witnessed scenes of tumultuous enthusiasm no less spectacular, and even more touching, than those which greeted Him when leaving His Most Great House in Baghdád. “The great tumult,” wrote an eyewitness, “associated in our minds with the Day of Gathering, the Day of Judgment, we beheld on that occasion. Believers and unbelievers alike sobbed and lamented. The chiefs and notables who had congregated were struck with wonder. Emotions were stirred to such depths as no tongue can describe, nor could any observer escape their contagion.”
Mounted on His steed, a red roan stallion of the finest breed, the best His lovers could purchase for Him, and leaving behind Him a bowing multitude of fervent admirers, He rode forth on the first stage of a journey that was to carry Him to the city of Constantinople. “Numerous were the heads,” Nabíl himself a witness of that memorable scene, recounts, “which, on every side, bowed to the dust at the feet of His horse, and kissed its hoofs, and countless were those who pressed forward to embrace His stirrups.” “How great the number of those embodiments of fidelity,” testifies a fellow-traveler, “who, casting themselves before that charger, preferred death to separation from their Beloved! Methinks, that blessed steed trod upon the bodies of those pure-hearted souls.” “He (God) it was,” Bahá’u’lláh Himself declares, “Who enabled Me to depart out of the city (Baghdád), clothed with such majesty as none, except the denier and the malicious, can fail to acknowledge.” These marks of homage and devotion continued to surround Him until He was installed in Constantinople.