The Festival of Ridván
Baha'is Most Great Festival
The love and admiration of the people for Bahá'u'lláh was fully demonstrated on the day of His departure from His 'Most Great House' in Baghdád. Then His majesty and greatness were evident to both friend and foe. The news of His forthcoming departure for Constantinople had spread rapidly among the inhabitants of Baghdád and its neighbouring towns, and large numbers wished to attain His presence and pay their last tributes to Him. But soon it became apparent that His house was too small for the purpose. When Najíb Páshá, one of the notables of the city of Baghdád heard of this, he immediately placed his garden-park, Najíbíyyih, at the disposal of Bahá'u'lláh. This beautiful garden, designated by His followers as the Garden of Ridván (Paradise), was situated on the outskirts of Baghdád, across the river from Bahá'u'lláh's house.
Thirty-one days after Naw-Rúz, on 22 April 1863, in the afternoon, Bahá'u'lláh moved to this garden, where He remained for twelve days. On the first day He declared His Mission to His companions. These twelve days are celebrated by the Bahá'ís as the Festival of Ridván.
The departure of Bahá'u'lláh from His house witnessed a commotion the like of which Baghdád had rarely seen. People of all walks of life, men and women, rich and poor, young and old, men of learning and culture, princes, government officials, tradesmen and workers, and above all His companions, thronged the approaches of His house and crowded the streets and roof-tops situated along His route to the river. They were lamenting and weeping the departure of One Who, for a decade, had imparted to them the warmth of His love and the radiance of His spirit, Who had been a refuge and guide for them all.
When Bahá'u'lláh appeared in the courtyard of His house His companions, grief-stricken and disconsolate, prostrated themselves at His feet. For some time He stood there, amid the weeping and lamentations of His loved ones, speaking words of comfort and promising to receive each of them in the garden later. Bahá'u'lláh in a Tablet mentions that when He had walked some way towards the gate, amidst the crowds, a child† of only a few years ran forward and, clinging to His robes, wept aloud, begging Him in his tender young voice not to leave. In such an atmosphere, where emotions had been so deeply stirred, this action on the part of a small child moved the hearts and brought further grief to everyone.
The scenes of lamentation and weeping outside the house, of those who did not confess to be His followers, were no less spectacular and heart-rending. Everyone in the crowded street sought to approach Him. Some prostrated themselves at His feet, others waited to hear a few words, yet others were content with a touch of His hands, a glance at His face. A Persian lady of noble birth, who was not herself a believer, pushed her way into the crowd and with a gesture of sacrifice threw her child at the feet of Bahá'u'lláh. These demonstrations continued all the way to the bank of the river.
Before crossing the river, Bahá'u'lláh addressed His companions who had gathered around Him, saying:
O My companions, I entrust to your keeping this city of Baghdád, in the state ye now behold it, when from the eyes of friends and strangers alike, crowding its housetops, its streets and markets, tears like the rain of spring are flowing down, and I depart. With you it now rests to watch lest your deeds and conduct dim the flame of love that gloweth within the breasts of its Inhabitants. - Shoghi Effendi
Bahá'u'lláh was then ferried across the river accompanied by three of His sons: 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Mírzá Mihdí (the Purest Branch) and Muhammad-'Alí, who were eighteen, fourteen and ten years of age, respectively. With them also was His amanuensis, Mírzá Áqá Ján. The identity of others who may have accompanied Him, or of those in the garden who had pitched His tent and were making preparations for His arrival, or of those who might have followed Him on that day, is not clearly known.
The call to afternoon prayer was raised from the mosque and the words 'Alláh'u'-Akbar' (God is the Greatest) chanted by the mu'adhdhin ( the one who calls to prayer) reverberated through the garden as the King of Glory entered it. There, Bahá'u'lláh appeared in the utmost joy, walking majestically in its avenues lined with flowers and trees. The fragrance of the roses and the singing of the nightingales created an atmosphere of beauty and enchantment.
The companions of Bahá'u'lláh had, for some time, known the Declaration of His station to be imminent. This realization came to them not only as a result of many remarks and allusions made by Him during the last few months of His sojourn in Baghdád, but also through a noticeable change in His demeanour. Another sign which unmistakably pointed to its approaching hour was the adoption, on the day of His departure from His house in Baghdád, of a different type of headdress known as táj (tall felt hat), which He wore throughout His ministry.
'Abdu'l-Bahá has described how, upon His arrival in the garden, Bahá'u'lláh declared His station to those of His companions who were present, and announced with great joy the inauguration of the Festival of Ridván.
Sadness and grief vanished and the believers were filled with delight at this announcement. Although Bahá'u'lláh was being exiled to far-off lands and knew the sufferings and tribulations which were in store for Him and His followers, yet through this historic Declaration He changed all sorrow into blissful joy and spent the most delightful time of His ministry in the Garden of Ridván. Indeed, in one of His Tablets, He has referred to the first day of Ridván as the 'Day of supreme felicity', and has called on His followers to 'rejoice, with exceeding gladness' in remembrance of that day.
The manner of the Declaration of Bahá'u'lláh's Mission is not clear, neither is the identity of all who heard Him. One thing, however, is clear. During His ten-years' sojourn in 'Iráq, although Bahá'u'lláh had alluded to His station, and identified Himself with the utterances of God revealed in His Tablets, He had never designated Himself as 'Him Whom God shall make manifest'. It was in the Garden of Ridván that, in the course of His Declaration, He unequivocally did so, announcing Himself as the One Whose advent the Báb had proclaimed, for Whose sake He had sacrificed Himself and for Whom He had established a covenant with His followers. That day was one of the most eventful in the life of Bahá'u'lláh. The whole day He was occupied with important affairs, which culminated in the Declaration of His Mission--the most momentous event of His ministry.
One of the differences between the Manifestation of God and man is that the latter becomes easily overwhelmed when afflicted by sufferings and faced with insurmountable obstacles. Under such circumstances, even men of outstanding ability show their weakness and reveal their incompetence. Their minds can cope only with one problem at a time, and they often seek the help of experts and advisers when they make a decision.
This is not so with the Manifestation of God. In the first place, He acts independently and no individual can ever assist Him. His soul is not bound by the limitations of the world of humanity and His mind is not overwhelmed when He is faced with a large number of simultaneous problems. In the midst of calamities, when the ablest of men succumb under pressure, He can remain detached and channel His thoughts to whatever He desires. This is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Manifestation of God, and Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitáb-i-Íqán has explained this by quoting the celebrated Islámic passage: 'Nothing whatsoever keepeth Him from being occupied with any other thing'. For instance, when Bahá'u'lláh declared His station, the believers who were in His presence became ecstatic. Their thoughts must have been focused only upon that momentous statement. But Bahá'u'lláh turned His attention to the events of a decade before, to the heroism and self-sacrifice of the followers of the Báb in the small town of Nayríz, in the province of Fárs in Persia.
Extract from the Revelation of Baha'u'llah