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For the next 12 days, Baha’is all around the world will celebrate the “King of Festivals,” the holiest days of the Baha'i year, called Ridvan (pronounced rez-vahn), which means “paradise.”
As Abdu’l-Baha, the son and successor of Baha’u’llah, once said in Paris: “This will be the paradise which is to come on earth, when all mankind will be gathered together under the tent of unity in the Kingdom of Glory.”
The Baha'i Faith began, appropriately enough, at a beautiful spot called the Garden of Ridvan. This rose-scented, birdsong-filled garden on the banks of the Tigris River near Baghdad witnessed the birth of the world’s newest independent religion in the spring of 1863.
Situated on a verdant island in the river, the Ridvan garden marks the exact spot where Baha’u’llah first declared his mission, inaugurating the Baha’i Faith and ushering in a new spiritual springtime.
On that First Day of Ridvan in 1863, Baha’u’llah revealed his Suriy-i-Sabr, known as the Tablet of Job. In it, Baha’u’llah penned a single sentence that revealed one of the great themes of the Baha'i teachings, progressive revelation, and the unity of all religion:
God hath sent down His Messengers to succeed to Moses and Jesus, and He will continue to do so till ‘the end that hath no end;’ so that His grace may, from the heaven of Divine bounty, be continually vouchsafed to mankind.
Baha’u’llah’s momentous declaration occurred during the 12- day period immediately before his government-imposed banishment to Istanbul, Turkey, then called Constantinople, the capitol of the Ottoman Empire. Ten years before, in 1853, the Persian government had exiled Baha’u’llah from Tehran to Baghdad, fearing the rapid spread of his teachings and their progressive impact on society.
In April of 1863, because his teachings continued to spread widely and threaten the dogmatic rule of the clerics, Baha’u’llah faced a second exile further away from his Persian homeland, as this historical account from the early Baha'i Jinab-i-Fadil recounts:
At last the enemies of the Cause secured from the government authorities an order banishing Baha'u'llah from Baghdad. It first read that he should go, alone. But later this was changed, permitting his family and a few followers to accompany him. The band of exiles left Baghdad and paused, first, in a beautiful garden outside the city. Here they sojourned for twelve days. A tent was pitched for Baha'u'llah, and around it the tents for the others. These days in the garden are called "The days of Ridvan" and they are of supreme importance, for it was then that Baha'u'llah declared, to a few followers, his great mission and began to build the palace of peace and unity for the world. He revealed many wonderful verses which sing the melodies of the New Day of God.
When the twelve days were over, the party, mounted on horses and donkeys and guarded by Turkish soldiers, set out again. The believers who could not accompany them were utterly broken-hearted. It was as though Baha'u'llah was a king starting upon a glorious journey. Outwardly, an exile – but in his spirit a great light was shining.
The exiles faced a grueling, arduous overland journey to Constantinople, across the deserts and mountains of Asia Minor in the heat of the summer, which would take four months. During that period Baha’u’llah proclaimed the mission of his new Faith — the oneness of humanity and peace between all nations — to a widening circle of new believers.
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With this profound announcement, Baha’u’llah transformed the occasion of his banishment from crisis to victory.
The twelve days of Ridvan, which Baha’is observe this year from sunset on April 19 to sunset on May 1, commemorate Baha’u’llah’s sojourn in the garden, and celebrate the birth of the Baha'i Faith.
Baha’i communities and their friends around the world remember the eve of Baha’u’llah’s banishment from Baghdad to Istanbul, not as a time of sorrow or regret, but as a happy festival of revelation and renewal. As Abdu’l-Baha told the Baha’is of New York City half a century later, the Ridvan holy days demonstrate the power of the prophet of God to create good from evil, bring forth light from darkness, and win triumph from seeming defeat:
The Persian government believed the banishment of [Baha’u’llah] from Persia would be the extermination of his cause in that country. These rulers now realized that it spread more rapidly. His prestige increased, his teachings became more widely circulated. The chiefs of Persia then used their influence to have Baha'u'llah exiled from Baghdad. He was summoned to Constantinople by the Turkish authorities. While in Constantinople he ignored every restriction, especially the hostility of ministers of state and clergy. The official representatives of Persia again brought their influence to bear upon the Turkish authorities and succeeded in having Baha'u'llah banished from Constantinople to Adrianople, the object being to keep him as far away as possible from Persia and render his communication with that country more difficult. Nevertheless the cause still spread and strengthened.
On the First Day of Ridvan, Baha’is and their friends all over the world will gather, virtually and in person, to pray, read from the Baha'i writings, and celebrate this momentous occasion together.