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In April of 1863, Baha’u’llah and his followers crossed over the Tigris River to the Garden of Ridvan to observe the divine springtime, that holiest of human celebrations, when a new prophet of God appears.
This time of the world may be likened to the equinoctial in the annual cycle. For, verily, this is the spring season of God. In the Holy Books a promise is given that the springtime of God shall make itself manifest; Jerusalem, the Holy City, shall descend from heaven; Zion shall leap forth and dance; and the Holy Land shall be submerged in the ocean of divine effulgence … It is a day of joy, a time of happiness, a period of spiritual growth.
Baha’u’llah’s declaration of his mission to a few followers in the Garden of Ridvan during those 12 days gave new inspiration to everyone around him, infusing the entire gathering in that garden of paradise with joy and life. Each year Baha’is celebrate these joyous emotions during the Ridvan Festival, and Baha’i communities all over the world host parties and gatherings where everyone is welcome.
During those first days of Ridvan in 1863 Baha’u’llah revealed the Suriy-i-Sabr, known as “the Tablet of Job.” In it, Baha’u’llah wrote a sentence that reveals one of the great themes of the Baha’i teachings, the unity of all religions and their progressive revelation:
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.
In his Most Holy Book, Baha’u’llah referred to that first day of Ridvan as the period of history when all humanity was “immersed in the sea of purification:”
Verily, all created things were immersed in the sea of purification when, on that first day of Ridvan, We shed upon the whole of creation the splendours of Our most excellent Names and Our most exalted Attributes. This, verily, is a token of My loving providence, which hath encompassed all the worlds.
On the ninth day of his sojourn in the Garden of Paradise, when the spring-swollen, flood-stage Tigris River had receded sufficiently, Baha’u’llah’s family and many other followers crossed the river to join him. Reunited on the island, the family’s joy mixed with trepidation, because they had no idea what would happen next. Ordered out of Baghdad by a fearful Persian despot – Nasiri’d-Din Shah, and two of his most hostile, virulent ministers, Mirza Aqasi and Amir-Nizam – Baha’u’llah, his family, and his followers would soon embark on a forced exile, a perilous four-month journey taking them to a foreign land with an alien language and culture.
Impoverished, reviled by officials and made homeless by their decree, they had no idea what tests, trials and tortures the future might hold. The capital of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople (renamed Istanbul in 1930) awaited them, infamous for its Turkish prisons and its harsh, brutal treatment of its captives.
Regardless of the dangers ahead, though, Baha’u’llah remained radiantly joyous. The historian Nabil wrote an eyewitness account of those glorious days on the island in the Garden of Ridvan:
One night, the ninth night of the waxing moon, I happened to be one of those who watched beside [Baha’u’llah’s] 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?”