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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.
As we join Baha’is around the world in celebrating the 12 day festival of Ridvan, we thought it would be great to share 12 things you should know about these special days which signify the 12 days Baha’u’llah spent in the Garden of Ridvan in Baghdad, so let’s begin!
1. The Word
Ridvan literally translates to “paradise” in the Arabic language and can be used as such in Baha’i Holy Writings to describe a place or station of spiritual beauty and significance. In phrases such as the “Ridvan of the divine Presence” or the “Ridvan of resplendent glory”, we understand Ridvan to be synonymous with the word Paradise.
Ridvan in common Baha’i speak refers most often to the Festival of Ridvan – a 12-day yearly festival held to commemorate the 12 days Baha’u’llah spent in the Garden of Ridvan in Baghdad in 1863, during which time He declared His Prophetic Mission to His followers and announced His station as the Promised One of all religions. Ridvan, together with the Declaration of the Bab, are designated by Baha’u’llah as “the two Most Great Festivals” and are attributed according significance in the Baha’i calendar and celebrated as such in the Baha’i world. The 1st, 9th and 12th days of Ridvan are considered Holy Days, on which work should be suspended and the festival of Ridvan is celebrated every year from the 13th of the month of Jalal to the 5th of the month of Jamal according to the Baha’i calendar.
3. The 1st Day
In 1863, exactly 31 days after the celebration of New Year (Naw-Ruz), Baha’u’llah set forth on the first stage of what would be a four-month journey from Baghdad to Constantinople after being exiled by the governing officials of the city. Baha’u’llah left His house and was ferried across the Tigris River before reaching the Najibiyyih Garden, where He would spend the next 12 days farewelling friends and followers before His final departure from Baghdad. Although the occasion of Baha’u’llah’s departure was one of sorrow, He fore-tellingly declared it the inauguration of a festival of supreme felicity and joy.
4. The 9th Day
Nine days after Baha’u’llah’s arrival in the Najibiyyih Garden, known thereafter as the Garden of Ridvan, He was joined by the rest of His family. By this time successive waves of visitors were streaming into the garden seeking the presence of Baha’u’llah and wishing to bid Him farewell. In a recount from Nabil in his Narrative, he describes Baha’u’llah walking at night among the tents of those who had come to the garden, observing aloud:
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?
Shoghi Effendi, “God Passes By” p. 153
5. The 12th Day
The last day of Baha’u’llah’s stay in the Garden of Ridvan before His impending departure was one of loss and sadness for those who had to remain.
Believers and unbelievers alike sobbed and lamented. The chiefs and notables who had congregated were struck with wonder. Emotions were stirred to such depths as no tongue can describe, nor could any observer escape their contagion.
Shoghi Effendi, “God Passes By”, p. 55
At noontime, twelve days after He had first entered the Garden, Baha’u’llah mounted a horse and departed the garden.
6. The Significance
It was during the Festival of Ridvan that Baha’u’llah, for the first time, publicly declared His station as a Manifestation of God, as the Promised One foretold in all the world’s religions. He brought with Him a Revelation that heralded a new era – the beginning of the Baha’i Faith.
While the above mentioned Garden of Ridvan refers to the Najibiyyih Garden where Baha’u’llah spent His last 12 days in Baghdad receiving friends who came to bid him farewell, there is in fact a second Garden of Ridvan that is referred to by the Baha’is. Fifteen years after Baha’u’llah had declared His mission at the original Festival of Ridvan, He eventually moved to a house outside of the prison city Akka in what is today Israel. Baha’u’llah’s son Abdu’l-Baha rented a small island garden of great beauty close enough to the house for Baha’u’llah to frequent. Baha’u’llah named this garden the Garden of Ridvan and once even received pilgrims there over a period of nine days.
Baha’u’llah established a unique system of administration that has governed the Baha’i community up until today. Founded on a set of unique electoral and consultative principles, the Baha’i administrative order is organized around elected governing councils, operating at the local, national, and international levels. 1
At the local level, Baha’i community life is governed by the Local Spiritual Assembly – a freely elected body of nine people who guide and administer the affairs of the community. 2 The Local Spiritual Assembly is elected on the first day of Ridvan, which begins, according to the Baha’i calendar, at sunset on April 20 and ends at sunset on April 21.
Shoghi Effendi says:
Pending its establishment, and to insure uniformity throughout the East and throughout the West, all local Assemblies will have to be re-elected once a year, during the first day of Ridvan, and the result of polling, if possible, be declared on that day.
Across the world Baha’is hold a National Convention once a year in their respective countries for the primary purpose of electing nine members who will serve on the nation’s Baha’i national administrative body called ‘The National Spiritual Assembly’.
An International Convention is held once every five years at the Baha’i World Centre in Haifa, Israel to elect the members of the supreme global governing and administrative body of the Baha’i Faith, ‘The Universal House of Justice’.
Every year at Ridvan, the Universal House of Justice releases a Ridvan Message addressed to the Baha’is of the world. Being the legislative authority, the Baha’i community looks to the Universal House of Justice for counsel, guidance and direction in its spiritual and administrative affairs.
Baha’u’llah wrote that since for…
…each day there is a new problem and for every problem an expedient solution, such affairs should be referred to the Ministers of the House of Justice that they may act according to the needs and requirements of the time.
As such, in the same way Baha’u’llah shared His Vision of the new era that began with His Declaration at Ridvan in 1863, so too does the Universal House of Justice continue each Ridvan to keep the Baha’i community in line with it in an ever-evolving world.
11. The Tablets
There are several Tablets, which Baha’u’llah revealed both during and for the Festival of Ridvan. These Holy Words are often read aloud or in private to mark the occasion of Ridvan, to reflect on its significance and draw on its enduring implication for the Baha’i community.
Arise, and proclaim unto the entire creation the tidings that He Who is the All-Merciful hath directed His steps towards the Ridvan and entered it. Guide, then, the people unto the garden of delight which God hath made the Throne of His Paradise. We have chosen thee to be our most mighty Trumpet, whose blast is to signalize the resurrection of all mankind.
Baha’u’llah, “Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah”, p.31
12. The Relevance
And finally, as Baha’is, as followers of Baha’u’llah that seek the Paradise of His Presence as much as the friends who gathered around Him in Baghdad did, we are charged and blessed with the duty of acknowledging the “King of Festivals”.
Rejoice with exceeding gladness, O people of Baha, as ye call to remembrance the Day of supreme felicity, the Day whereon the Tongue of the Ancient of Days hath spoken, as He departed from His House, proceeding to the Spot from which He shed upon the whole of creation the splendors of His name, the All-Merciful.
Baha’u’llah, “Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah”, p.35