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.
The 12 day Festival of Ridvan signifies the anniversary of the Declaration of Baha’u’llah’s mission to His followers, and in The Most Holy Book Baha’u’llah ordained Ridvan as one of two of the “Most Great Festivals”, the other being the Declaration of the Bab. Although the entire festival is sacred, Baha’is suspend work on three specific days of the Ridvan Festival – the 1st, 9th and 12th days.
I don’t think there is any way to write a blog article that can summarize or make comment on such a momentous and sublime occasion as what took place when Baha’u’llah proclaimed to be the Promised One of all Ages in the Garden of Ridvan. It’s like trying to imagine the infinitude of the universe, or count all the waves in the ocean. And it’s likewise difficult to describe what took place on the 12th Day of Ridvan, when Baha’u’llah left the Ridvan Garden and began the long and arduous exile to Constantinople. Thankfully, we can turn to Baha’u’llah’s descriptions of what occurred in Days of Remembrance.
Days of Remembrance is a collection of Baha’u’llah’s Writings, many of which are translated into English for the first time. It includes Tablets revealed in honor of nine Baha’i holy days and a significant portion of Days of Remembrance is dedicated to Tablets about Ridvan and its significance.
The Tablets about Ridvan are diverse, from the poetry of “The Tablet of the Wondrous Maiden”, to Writings describing the bounty of celebrating Ridvan, to those that chronicle, in wondrous and mystical terms, what took place. For example, Baha’u’llah revealed these words about His departure from the Ridvan Garden:
And when the appointed time of tarrying was fulfilled and the decree of departure was received, the Beauty of the All-Merciful arose and went out from the Ridvan Garden riding upon the finest stallion. Blessed, then, be the All-Glorious, Who appeared in the world of creation with a sovereignty that transcendeth the heavens and the earth!
As He departed, a cry of sorrow ascended from the garden, and its trees, and leaves, and fruits, and walls, and air, and ground, and pavilion, while the dwellers of the deserts and the wilderness, and even the very dunes and the dust of the earth, rejoiced at His approach. 1
Baha’u’llah also describes His departure in these words:
In the arrival and departure of the Ancient Beauty, the signs and tokens of God were made clear and evident, and the light of Revelation was made to shine forth in the plenitude of its glory. Verily, His majesty was exalted, His power magnified, and His sovereignty revealed. 2
I’ve been reflecting and meditating on that last sentence about how, in His departure from the Ridvan Garden, “His majesty was exalted, His power magnified, and His sovereignty revealed”. These qualities are reflected in Shoghi Effendi’s description in God Passes By of the 12th Day of Ridvan:
The departure of Baha’u’llah from the Garden of Ridvan, at noon, on the 14th of Dhi’l-Qa‘dih 1279 A.H. (May 3, 1863), witnessed scenes of tumultuous enthusiasm no less spectacular, and even more touching, than those which greeted Him when leaving His Most Great House in Baghdad. “The great tumult,” wrote an eyewitness, “associated in our minds with the Day of Gathering, the Day of Judgment, we beheld on that occasion. 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.”
Mounted on His steed, a red roan stallion of the finest breed, the best His lovers could purchase for Him, and leaving behind Him a bowing multitude of fervent admirers, He rode forth on the first stage of a journey that was to carry Him to the city of Constantinople. “Numerous were the heads,” Nabil himself a witness of that memorable scene, recounts, “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.” “How great the number of those embodiments of fidelity,” testifies a fellow-traveler, “who, casting themselves before that charger, preferred death to separation from their Beloved! Methinks, that blessed steed trod upon the bodies of those pure-hearted souls.” “He (God) it was,” Baha’u’llah Himself declares, “Who enabled Me to depart out of the city (Baghdad), clothed with such majesty as none, except the denier and the malicious, can fail to acknowledge.” These marks of homage and devotion continued to surround Him until He was installed in Constantinople. 3
What strikes me most when I think about the 12th Day of Ridvan is the marriage of joy and pain; the elation, jubilation, and exaltation upon hearing Baha’u’llah’s unveiled Proclamation, and the grief and intense sorrow of the people of Baghdad upon His departure. Imagine having a Manifestation of God in your city and then being told He was being banished far beyond your reach! Baha’u’llah describes the grief of this separation as a “grief that none in the heavens or on the earth could bear its weight.”
While the historical details of Baha’u’llah’s departure from the Ridvan Garden are few, the descriptions of what occurred during those 12 days in Baha’u’llah’s own words are priceless gems I will visit and revisit and revisit again. If you don’t own a copy, you can read Days of Remembrance online in its entirely on the Baha’i Reference Library website but I would like to end with this ringing clarion call about the significance of this Most Great Festival:
By God! This is the festival wherein the beauty of the Unknowable Essence hath appeared unveiled and arrayed with such sovereignty as to lay low the necks of them that have repudiated His truth. All hail then to this, the Festival of the Lord, that hath appeared with supreme dominion!
This is a festival wherein all things have been absolved by virtue of the appearance of Him Who is the Ancient King from behind the veil of names. Wherefore, rejoice in your hearts, O peoples of the world, for the breezes of forgiveness have been wafted over the entire creation and the spirit of life hath been breathed into the world. All hail then to this, the Festival of the Lord, that hath appeared above a dayspring of resplendent holiness! 4
In her innermost heart, Sonjel is a stay-at-home parent and a bookworm with a maxed out library card but professionally she is a museologist with a background in English Literature. She currently lives on Prince Edward Island, an isle in the shape of a smile on the eastern Canadian coast. Sonjel is a writer who loves to listen to jazz when she's driving at night.