On a hot April day in 1863 on the outskirts of Baghdad, Baha’u’llah entered the Najibiyyih Garden on the banks of the Tigris River. He spent the following twelve days accepting visitors for the last time before His departure to Constantinople. As this place was blessed with His presence, Baha’is now refer to it as the Ridvan (Paradise) Garden and commemorating these special 12 days is known as the Festival of Ridvan.
It was here that Mirza Hussein Ali Noori, then an unofficial leader among the followers of the Bab (known as Babis), publicly declared His station as a divine Manifestation of God. From then on, He would be called Baha’u’llah – the Glory of God – and would wear a different and special headpiece, the “taj”, to indicate His new authoritative and independent station.1
Such a proclamation marked a turning point in the affairs of the Babi community that had been long awaiting for someone to take the lead, as well as waiting for Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest to appear as per the Bab’s counsels. We know that Baha’u’llah received divine revelation while in the Siyah-Chal (the Black Pit) dungeon in Tehran back in 1852. So one might wonder why did Baha’u’llah wait for ten years to announce His station?
I personally think the answer can be found in the Writings of the Bab. Interestingly enough, even though both Manifestations lived in the same time period and in the same country, the Bab and Baha’u’llah never physically met. They only shared two written communications that are known to us. It is in the second address from the Bab to Him Whom God Shall Make Manifest that we get a clue. This extraordinary letter begins with a sentence that blows my mind away:
This is a letter from God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting, unto God, the Almighty, the Best-Beloved…2
In it, we see the mysterious oneness of the Holy Spirit manifesting Itself in the Twin Manifestations (as the Bab and Baha’u’llah are called). The Bab goes on to say that His religion and all His believers are nothing but a gift to Baha’u’llah. Further, the Bab begs Baha’u’llah to allow a full lapse of 19 years to pass before announcing the new religion in order for the followers of Bayan to be rewarded:
Shouldst Thou dismiss the entire company of the followers of the Bayan in the Day of the Latter Resurrection by a mere sign of Thy finger even while still a suckling babe, Thou wouldst indeed be praised in Thy indication. And though no doubt is there about it, do Thou grant a respite of nineteen years as a token of Thy favor so that those who have embraced this Cause may be graciously rewarded by Thee. Thou art verily the Lord of grace abounding.3
It is therefore my understanding that even though Baha’u’llah received His revelation nine years after the Bab did, He mercifully withheld announcing it for ten years at the Bab’s request on behalf of His believers.
I think Baha’u’llah’s declaration occurred at a critical time when I reflect how He was being further exiled and had to leave the Babi community behind. They needed reinforcement and leadership, and they were given the chance to live up to the moment they were awaiting when the Promised One became known.
With the declaration of His mission, Baha’u’llah clearly positioned Himself as a new independent Prophet and indicated that the old was now replaced with the new, as the Bab had foretold. Baha’u’llah stated that with His declaration the entire world of creation had been purified and renewed, and that all the names and attributes of God had been manifested. He also foretold of the coming of a future Manifestation of God, who would bring renewed spiritual teachings for humanity, in at least 1,000 years time.
On the last night of His stay in the Ridvan Garden, Baha’u’llah revealed the Tablet of Job also known as Surih-i-Sabr or Tablet of Patience. Although it has not yet been officially translated, you can read about its contents in Adib Taherzadeh’s The Revelation of Baha’u’llah (Volume 1). In it Baha’u’llah paid a tribute to the tremendous sacrifices of the Bab and His heroic believers and remembered the acts of the heroes of Nayriz. Baha’u’llah wrote about patience, tests and difficulties, preparing His followers for the trials that were to come, and giving them faith and courage in the face of separation. I think that some of the beautiful ideas shared in this Tablet are also very pertinent today, as the world suffers through the Coronavirus pandemic. Adib Taherzadeh summarizes a concept of the Tablet with these words:
There are many mysteries hidden in God’s creation. One of these is the mystery of suffering. In his life, man experiences many trials and tribulations, but often does not understand their purpose. Although the full significance of suffering cannot be fully appreciated in this world, its effects on the individual can be readily observed.
In the world of nature most objects are affected by external influences. For instance, a piece of iron left on its own is cold and becomes rusty. As a result of friction, however, it produces heat, its surfaces become shiny, and by increasing the force of friction it can become even a luminous body. But only pressure from without will cause these characteristics, which are latent within the iron, to be manifested.
Similarly, within a human being there are qualities and virtues which remain dormant. Often, suffering helps to release the potentialities within man, bringing to the surface noble qualities which had hitherto remained concealed.4
I hope this idea brings you some comfort during this challenging time and I wish you a happy and joyous Festival of Ridvan!
A final note: there are some beautiful Tablets that were revealed in the Ridvan Garden or about the Declaration of Baha’u’llah and its significance that have been recently translated and compiled in a volume called Days of Remembrance. You can read it in full here on the Baha’i Reference Library.