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Today Baha’is joyously celebrate the Ninth Day of Ridvan, commemorating the reunion of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, with his family before their exile together to a strange land.
Nine days before, with the Tigris River in its spring flood stage in April of 1863, Baha’u’llah and a handful of his followers crossed over the water to the Garden of Ridvan or Paradise, set up their tents, and began to observe a divine springtime – that holiest and happiest of human celebrations, when a new divine messenger announces his mission, as Baha’u’llah did here:
In God We put Our trust, and to Him We cry for help, that haply there may flow from this pen that which shall quicken the souls of men, that they may all arise from their beds of heedlessness and hearken unto the rustling of the leaves of Paradise, from the tree which the hand of divine power hath, by the permission of God, planted in the Ridvan of the All-Glorious.
Baha’u’llah’s declaration on the First Day of Ridvan to a few followers in that blooming garden on the Tigris River gave new inspiration to everyone around him, infusing the entire gathering with the sense of entering a paradise. 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.
In his “Most Holy Book,” Baha’u’llah also referred to Ridvan as the time 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 this holy period, when the Tigris had receded sufficiently, Baha’u’llah’s family and many other followers crossed the river in boats to join him in the Garden of Paradise. Every year Baha’is celebrate the Ninth Day of Ridvan as a Holy Day commemorating the unity of the family and the great joy of Baha’u’llah’s declaration.
Reunited on the island and temporarily overjoyed to be together, Baha’u’llah’s family still feared and grieved, however, because they had little knowledge about what might happen next. Exiled by a vicious Persian despot — Nasiri’d-Din Shah — and two of the most hostile, virulent ministers in his court, Mirza Aqasi and Amir-Nizam, Baha’u’llah, his family and his followers would soon embark on their forced exile. They would undertake a perilous four-month journey on foot and horseback which would banish 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 there might hold. They only knew that the capitol of the Ottoman Empire, Constantinople (now Istanbul) awaited them, infamous for its brutal Turkish prisons and its harsh treatment of any captives.
Regardless of the dangers ahead, though, Baha’u’llah remained joyous. Quoted by the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, in his history “God Passes By,” 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?”