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Baha’is follow the teachings of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, and every year Baha’i communities around the world joyously commemorate their Faith’s teachings of love and unity.
Today, Baha’is will observe the ninth day of the annual Ridvan festival (ridvan means paradise) – a day with a joyful special significance which makes it holy for every Baha’i:
Rejoice with exceeding gladness, O people of Baha, 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. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah
It began during the period when the Tigris River reached flood stage in the spring of 1863. In late April Baha’u’llah and a handful of his followers crossed over the river to the Najibiyyih garden, a park-like setting on an island filled with rose bushes and the songs of nightingales. There they set up their tents and prepared spiritually for their imminent journey to Constantinople – Baha’u’llah’s next place of government-imposed exile. On that fragrant island they began to observe a divine springtime, that holiest of human celebrations, when a new prophet of God has come:
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. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace
Baha’u’llah‘s declaration of his mission to a few followers in the Garden of Ridvan gave new inspiration to everyone around him, infusing the entire gathering in that garden of paradise with joy and life. Each year Baha’is commemorate these joyous emotions during the twelve-day Ridvan Festival, and Baha’i communities all over the world host parties and gatherings that welcome everyone in the spirit of the unity of the human family.
On the ninth day after Baha’u’llah reached the Ridvan garden, when the Tigris River had receded sufficiently from its spring flood stage, Baha’u’llah’s family and many other followers could finally cross the river by boat to join him in that Garden of Paradise. Baha’is celebrate that Ninth Day of Ridvan as a Holy Day which commemorates the unity of the human family and the great joy of Baha’u’llah’s declaration.
Even though they had reunited on the island, though, Baha’u’llah’s family had no idea what would happen next. Exiled by a vicious Persian despot – Nasiri’d-Din Shah – and two of his most hostile ministers, Mirza Aqasi and Amir-Nizam, Baha’u’llah, his family and his followers would soon embark on their forced exile, a treacherous four-month journey to an unknown future in a foreign land with an alien language and culture.
Impoverished, reviled by officials and made homeless by their decrees, they had no idea what tests, trials and tortures Constantinople might hold. Rumors swirled – that Baha’u’llah and all his followers would be imprisoned, tortured or killed. The capitol of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople (now Istanbul) awaited them, infamous at the time for its Turkish prisons and their harsh, brutal treatment of captives.
But regardless of the dangers ahead, Baha’u’llah remained joyous. The historian Nabil wrote:
One night, 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?” – quoted by Shoghi Effendi in God Passes By
Baha’u’llah, in his powerful declaration in the garden of Ridvan, announced the universal call of a new spiritual revelation to humanity:
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 the earth. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah