Baháʼí - The Twelfth day Riḍván Festival

Baháʼí - The Twelfth day Riḍván Festival

Compiled by
Jaya Raju Thota, India
( JRT, India)

The Twelfth Day of Riḍván festival falls on
5 Jamál 178 B.E. (Baháʼí Era) 1 May, 2021.

Baháʼí Communities throughout world joyfully celebrate the Twelfth Day of Riḍván on 5 Jamál 178 B.E. (Baháʼí Era) 1 May, 2021.

Ridván means “paradise” in the Arabic language. 
The Twelfth Day of Ridván is the last day 
Baháʼu'lláh spent in the Garden of Ridván in Baghdad in 1863. It 
was during this time that Baháʼu'lláh 
declared His Prophetic Mission to His followers. Ridván is a joyous occasion, but the twelfth day was one of sadness.

One day Bahá’u’lláh’s brother was being chased by a gang hoping to injure him. As he made it to the entrance of the Russian Consulate, they robbed him of his cloak. When the Russian Consul heard about this and then learnt of Bahá’u’lláh’s brutal imprisonment in an underground reservoir, he straight away rose up before the Shah, and by using his great influence and pressure, brought about Bahá’u’lláh’s release. Iran moved Bahá’u’lláh far away, to Baghdad; the Russians appointed guards to protect Him along the way, threatening that if a hair should be lost from His head, war would follow and burn Iran to cinders.

Every new Faith traces its beginnings back to the moment when its Prophet and Founder first recognized and began to proclaim its holy mission.

Christians trace their Faith’s origins to the period when Jesus Christ, after His baptism by John the Baptist, returned from His sojourn in the wilderness to begin preaching the new Gospel. 

Jewish people recognize the return of Moses from Mount Sinai as the time when He brought the Ten Commandments to His followers. 

In Islam, Muslims mark the beginnings of their Faith from the year 610 C.E., in a cave named Hira on 
Mount Jabal al-Nour near Mecca in what is now Saudi Arabia, when Muhammad received his first revelation.

For Baháʼís, the 12-day period (April 20 through May 1, 2021) called Riḍván (which means paradise) commemorates Baháʼu'lláh's initial announcement of His new Revelation:

Arise, and proclaim unto the entire creation the tidings that He Who is the All-Merciful hath directed His steps towards the Riḍván and entered it. Guide, then, the people unto the garden of delight which God hath made the Throne of His Paradise. – Baháʼu'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Baháʼu'lláh.

That period of time, celebrated by Baháʼís around the Earth during late April and early May each year, signifies more than simply the beginnings of their Faith – to Baháʼís it means that a new spiritual springtime has arrived for the entire world.

Exiled by government decree because the  Báb's, and Baha’u’llah’s teachings had continued their rapid spread among the people of the Ottoman Empire, 
Baháʼu'lláh and His family faced a perilous, grueling trip on foot and horseback through the hottest months of the year. Precisely at noon on the 12th day of Ridvan – May 3, 1863 – Baháʼu'lláh mounted His horse, a noble red roan stallion, and set out on the road to face an unknown fate. At the place of departure, He was immediately surrounded by hordes of people begging for His blessings and imploring Him not to go. The historian Nabil, an eyewitness to Baháʼu'lláh’s departure that day, described a wrenching scene:

Numerous were the heads 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. – quoted by Shoghi Effendi in God Passes By

Although Baháʼu'lláh had asked His many followers to stay in Baghdad and not try to trail along behind the exiled group, one of the Baháʼís, named Mirza Asadu’llah Kashani, couldn’t help himself:

Although Baháʼu'lláh had commanded the friends not to follow them, I was so loath to let Him go out of my sight, that I ran after them for three hours.

He saw me, and getting down from His horse, waited for me, telling me with His beautiful voice, full of love and kindness, to go back to Baghdad, and with the friends, to set about our work, not slothfully, but with energy:

“Be not overcome with sorrow – I am leaving friends I love in Baghdad. I will surely send to them tidings of our welfare. Be steadfast in your service to God, who doeth whatsoever He willeth. Live in such peace as will be permitted to you.”

We watched them disappear into the darkness with sinking hearts, for their enemies were powerful and cruel! And we knew not where they were being taken. An unknown destination! 

Weeping bitterly, we turned our faces toward Baghdad, determined to live according to His command. – from Mirza Asadu’llah Kashani, quoted by Lady Blomfield in The Chosen Highway, pp. 122-123.

Many of Baháʼu'lláh’s followers decided to abandon Baghdad also, and accompany Him in His wanderings. When the caravan started, our company numbered about seventy-five persons. All the young men, and others who could ride, were mounted on horses. The women and Baháʼu'lláh were furnished wagons. We were accompanied by a military escort. – from an interview with Baha’u’llah’s daughter Bahiyyih Khanum, in Abbas Effendi, His Life and Teachings, by Myron H. Phelps.

On the 12th day of Riḍván, Baháʼu'lláh began His second exile. 

The first, ten years before, had taken Him and His family from Tehran in Persia to Baghdad in Iraq. Two more banishments would come after this one, the final exile to the pestilential prison-city of Akka in Palestine, where few survived the terrible prison conditions. 

But these cruel banishments, decreed by rulers who feared the rapid spread of Baha’u’llah’s teachings, failed in their intent to suppress, damage and destroy the Baháʼí Faith – instead, they rendered it victorious, helping to spread its healing spiritual message around the world.

When the 12th and final day of the original Riḍván period in 1863 arrived, Baháʼu'lláh departed from that garden island outside of Baghdad and began His four-month journey to Constantinople, now known as Istanbul. 

The bridge at Büyükçekmece, Turkey, which Baháʼu'lláh and His companions crossed on their way from Constantinople to Adrianople in December 1863.

That’s one reason why, during the Riḍván period each year, Baháʼís around the world elect the democratic institutions that administer and guide their Faith. Because the Baháʼí Faith has no clergy, Baha’i communities govern themselves with democratically-elected bodies of nine people called Spiritual Assemblies, annually elected at the local and national level on the first day of Riḍván at present. At five year intervals, Baháʼís elect the Universal House of Justice during this same period.  

Every year during the twelve days of Riḍván, when Baháʼís gather to pray and silently cast their ballots for these unique democratic institutions, they affirm Baháʼu'lláhs teachings of world unity; symbolically honor the garden of humanity in all its diversity and beauty; and celebrate Baháʼu'lláh’s powerful declaration in the garden of Riḍván.

The 1st, 9th and 12th days are especially holy days. They commemorate the arrival of Bahá'u'lláh at the Ridván Garden, the arrival of His family and His departure.

On the very first day of the Ridván festivities, Bahá’u’lláh shone out to the world like the most brilliant sun. 

Each day in the Garden, before the sun had dawned, the gardeners would pick the roses which lined the four avenues and pile them up in the centre of the floor inside Bahá’u’lláh’s tent. So great would be the heap that His companions gathering to drink their morning tea in His presence would be unable to see each other across it. Bahá’u’lláh would entrust these roses with His own hands to the friends He would send out each morning, and on His behalf to be delivered to His Arab and Persian friends in the city.

On the fifth night, one of the companions was watching beside Bahá’u’lláh’s tent and keeping the ropes steady; as midnight approached, Bahá’u’lláh came out from His tent, and passed by the places where some of His companions were sleeping. He began to pace up and down the moonlit, flower-bordered avenues of the garden. The nightingales were singing so loudly on every side, only those nearby could make out Bahá’u’lláh’s voice. He continued to walk, and paused amidst an avenue. He observed how the nightingales were sleepless from dusk till dawn enraptured with their love for the roses, communing in a burning passion of melody. 

For three nights the same companion watched and circled around His tent, and found Bahá’u’lláh wakeful at all times, whilst each day, from morning to evening, Bahá’u’lláh would be engaged in ceaseless conversation with the streams of visitors flowing continuously into His presence from Baghdad.

On the ninth day, the River settled down and the flood-waters receded, allowing those in the old eastern side of the City to cross the boat bridge. The family of Bahá’u’lláh moved into the Garden, and the River overflowed a second time.

The flooding subsided again on the twelfth day, and everyone went across the River to enter the presence of Bahá’u’lláh.

The day at last came to a close, and Bahá’u’lláh announced that He would be leaving the coming afternoon.

Bahá'u'lláh's declaration that He was the prophet heralded by the Báb was not made public for over a year.

Bahá'u'lláh made the annoucement when He arrived in Ridván to 'Abdu'l-Bahá and four others, but told them to keep it a secret.

Bahá'u'lláh did not just announce that He was the Prophet. He also said that there would be no other Prophet for 1000 years, that His followers could not fight to protect or promote the Bahá'í Faith and that "all the names of God were fully manifest in all things".

The last statement is taken by Bahá'ís to mean that the world had been mystically transformed and that there was now a new relationship between God and humanity.

The Ridván Garden in Baghdad was originally named Najibiyyih. Bahá'u'lláh renamed it Ridván, which means Paradise.

On the appointed afternoon, in the nineteenth year of the Faith, the 21 April 1863, Bahá’u’lláh emerged from the inner room of the House, and set out with 'Abdu’l-Bahá toward the Garden that lay over the River, ten minutes from the City gate. On His head He now wore conspicuously a taj, a tall, beautifully-adorned felt hat that He from that moment on would wear throughout His ministry.

So that His family and followers could prepare for the journey, Bahá'u'lláh left His house on 21 April 1863 and moved to the Najibiyyih Garden, where He proclaimed the Festival of Ridván. The festival begins 2 hours before sunset on 21 April, as that was the time He arrived in the Garden.

After much time, the mules were loaded; eight or nine howdahs settled on them and closed up, and the ladies and children took their seats, some of these of the most joltering kind. Different people would be serving in different ways.

During His many years in Baghdad, Bahá’u’lláh had always chosen to ride a donkey rather than a horse. Towards sunset, amidst all the commotion, his lovers brought over an Arabian horse of the finest breed, the best they could afford. As Bahá’u’lláh’s foot reached the stirrup, the red stallion bent its knees, and lowered itself, causing the people to lament ever louder. 
For twelve days Bahá’u’lláh stayed in the Garden, and would be found each day in the utmost joy, walking majestically in the flower-lined avenues and amongst the trees.

Bahá'u'lláh had been exiled to Baghdad from Tehran in Persia in 1853, but in 1863 the authorities began to fear that He might be a focus for political unrest there. It was decided that Bahá'u'lláh would now be exiled to Istanbul.

Bahá'u'lláh also had a garden called 'Ridván' outside Akka during the final part of His life.

The friends living in Baghdad would come during the day and return home each night, whilst others would be engaged in service to those in the Garden.

Bahá’u’lláh boarded a small boat waiting for Him; the people pressed all around Him, wishing to be in His Presence for as long as they could.

The boat pushed off, and ferried Bahá’u’lláh across the water, in company with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Purest Branch , another of His sons, and His secretary, and the companions on the bank all watched with sorrowing hearts as He receded into the distance.

Bahá’u’lláh set foot on the opposite bank and crossed into the Garden, just as the call of ‘God is the Greatest’ resounded throughout the district from the pinnacles of mosque, summoning the inhabitants to the late afternoon prayer, at two hours to sunset. Shortly after Bahá’u’lláh’s arrival, the River rose up, making it difficult to cross, and it was only on the ninth day that the whole of Bahá’u’lláh’s family was able to join Him.

Eminent rulers, clergy and jurists would come continuously to Bahá’u’lláh’s tent with their insoluble problems, and take their leave satisfied with their dilemmas entirely solved.

The next few weeks were exceptionally busy. Bahá’u’lláh revealed a personal Tablet for every one of His friends in Baghdad, adult and child alike, writing for them with His Own hand; He received innumerable visitors, and made the practical preparations necessary for the caravan journey. The arrangements required for the journey were exceptionally demanding.

Whether journeying with Him or remaining in Baghdad, most of Bahá’u’lláh’s companions only began to learn of His momentous declaration once He had reached Edirne and begun to spread it publicly.

As this news reached every ear, the friends were transported into worlds of exultation and new insight that shone constantly in their hearts and guided them throughout the years.

This holiday commemorates the departure of Baháʼu'lláh for Constantinople and brings to a close the Festival of Ridván. Work should be suspended on this holiday.