Baha’is believe in the power of prayer and you’ll find Baha’is and their friends, throughout the world, getting together to pray. This is often referred to as a ‘devotional gathering’ or ‘devotional meeting’, and they happen in diverse settings, whether in cities or villages.
Ridvan, also known as the Most Great Festival, celebrates Baha’u’llah’s time in the garden of Ridvan on the outskirts of Baghdad in 1863 where He publicly declared His station as a Manifestation of God. The Ridvan Festival is 12 days long and is also the time of year where Baha’is elect their local and national governing bodies, and every five years, the international governing body for the worldwide Baha’i community.
With Ridvan, The King of Festivals, upon us, we start to rejoice and reflect on all things Ridvan. With the Northern Hemisphere bursting into the full bloom of spring we start daydreaming about what it might have been like to be in the presence of Baha’u’llah, in the garden of Ridvan.
This brings us to an interesting point: there are in fact two gardens of Ridvan amongst the gardens of holy significance to the Baha’is. What the two have in common is that they were both blessed by the presence of Baha’u’llah and that they both were places of beauty and joy for Baha’u’llah and His followers.
While it is the garden of Ridvan near Akka that most of us are familiar with, the original garden of Ridvan is situated by the Tigris in Baghdad, Iraq.
Baha’u’llah had been in exile in Baghdad for a period of ten years when, in 1863, He was further exiled to Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, in Turkey). During His years of exile in Baghdad, the greatness of Baha’u’llah had touched the hearts of the people of Baghdad and many surrounding areas and they thronged to bid Him farewell.
It soon became clear that His house was not large enough to receive the masses of people grieving His departure. In response to the need for a larger gathering place, a prominent figure in the city of Baghdad offered his garden – known as ‘Najibiyyih’ – to Baha’u’llah to use leading up to His departure. This was a garden of great beauty on the outskirts of Baghdad and was named ‘The garden of Ridvan (Paradise)’ by the followers of Baha’u’llah.
Baha’u’llah and many of His followers stayed in this garden for twelve days, during the first of which He declared to those present that He was the Promised One from God for Whom they had all been awaiting. Accounts of the twelve days in the Garden of Ridvan describe the immense joy experienced by all present due to the events that transpired there and also recount the enchanting beauty of the garden that was filled with roses and the song of nightingales. It was indeed a glorious time, which unfortunately was followed by a long period of immense suffering by Baha’u’llah and the Holy Family.
Fifteen years later, in 1877, after living in harsh and unimaginable conditions as a captive in the filthy and foul-smelling prison city of Akka, in Ottoman-run Palestine, Baha’u’llah left the prison city and moved to the Mansion of Mazra’ih. This was a house outside the city that Abdu’l-Baha had rented and prepared for Baha’u’llah.
Abdu’l-Baha had also rented a small island garden for Baha’u’llah which was called the garden of Ridvan, which remains today to be a garden of great beauty with verdant plants, a fountain and gurgling streams. Baha’u’llah would often visit this garden of paradise, which Abdu’l-Baha had so lovingly prepared for Him, and He received much pleasure from spending time in this garden – which was such a stark contrast to the stone walls and grime of the prison city where he was held captive.
As well as the garden, there is also a small room on the site that was later used as an occasional place of rest by Baha’u’llah, where on one occasion He stayed for a period of nine days during which pilgrims traveled from Akka to visit Him.
In recent years much work has been carried out at the garden of Ridvan to restore it to how it was during the time of Baha’u’llah. This garden of great beauty is visited as a place of pilgrimage by Baha’is from around the world.