Tehran, Iran, the Birthplace of Baha’u’llah, the Founder of the Baha’i Faith. (Photo taken by Effie Baker in 1930. Courtesy: Baha’i Media Bank)
194 years ago, on 12 November 1817 in Tehran, Baha’u’llah was born.
As followers of Baha’u’llah’s faith, we are familiar with the profound wisdom of His writings and the dramatic events of His life. But there is a mystery that remains around His early years.
This is true of all other Manifestations of God too. I often marvel at the images of “baby Jesus” that we see in the ubiquitous nativity scenes every Christmas. It’s difficult to imagine that the Manifestations of God, who revealed teachings that revitalised entire human civilizations and who suffered the greatest tribulations while demonstrating the qualities of God, were once children!
One of the spiritual proofs of the divine origins of the Manifestations, we are told, is the innate wisdom that They demonstrate as children.
Abdu’l Baha said, of Baha’u’llah:
The Blessed Perfection, Baha’u’llah, belonged to the nobility of Persia. From earliest childhood He was distinguished among His relatives and friends. They said, “This child has extraordinary power.” In wisdom, intelligence and as a source of new knowledge, He was advanced beyond His age and superior to His surroundings. All who knew Him were astonished at His precocity. Promulgation of Universal Peace
One of my favourite stories, from which we can see Baha’u’llah’s innate wisdom, can be found from Baha’u’llah’s reflections upon an event that He observed during His childhood.
As a child, Baha’u’llah was taken to the celebrations for His elder brother’s wedding. On the last of the seven days of celebration, the guests were invited to a puppet show called “The Show of Sultan Salim”. The puppet show involved a grand display of the might and power of the ruling elite – a procession of puppets representing the high officials bowing to another puppet representing a king; more puppets representing the King’s subjects; and even an executioner carrying out the King’s judgment!
Baha’u’llah goes on to observe, however, that only moments after the show had ended, He saw a man carrying a box , in which all the puppets which had been used to demonstrate the might and authority of the King, were now packed away.
Baha’u’llah recounts how seeing this as a child, made Him reflect on the insignificance of earthly power and might. The puppet show was an analogy for the powerful ruling elite who, after walking the earth in splendour, would also ultimately end up in a wooden box at the end of their lives, with their earthly rank being of no consequence!
Hearing this story, it is easier to appreciate why Baha’u’llah, in His life, eschewed positions of rank and importance. Even as a child, He possessed innate wisdom and spiritual insight into the realities of human existence!
Here is the story in its full form, as narrated by Baha’u’llah.
When I was still a child and had not yet attained the age of maturity, My father made arrangements in Tihrán for the marriage of one of My older brothers, and as is customary in that city, the festivities lasted for seven days and seven nights. On the last day it was announced that the play “Sháh Sultán Salím” would be presented. A large number of princes, dignitaries, and notables of the capital gathered for the occasion. I was sitting in one of the upper rooms of the building and observing the scene. Presently a tent was pitched in the courtyard, and before long some small human-like figures, each appearing to be no more than about a hand’s span in height, were seen to emerge from it and raise the call: “His Majesty is coming! Arrange the seats at once!” Other figures then came forth, some of whom were seen to be engaged in sweeping, others in sprinkling water, and thereafter another, who was announced as the chief town crier, raised his call and bade the people assemble for an audience with the king. Next, several groups of figures made their appearance and took their places, the first attired in hats and sashes after the Persian fashion, the second wielding battle axes, and the third comprising a number of footmen and executioners carrying bastinados. Finally there appeared, arrayed in regal majesty and crowned with a royal diadem, a kingly figure, bearing himself with the utmost haughtiness and grandeur, at turns advancing and pausing in his progress, who proceeded with great solemnity, poise and dignity to seat himself upon his throne.
At that moment a volley of shots was fired, a fanfare of trumpets was sounded, and king and tent were enveloped in a pall of smoke. When it had cleared, the king, ensconced upon his throne, was seen surrounded by a suite of ministers, princes, and dignitaries of state who, having taken their places, were standing at attention in his presence. A captured thief was then brought before the king, who gave the order that the offender should be beheaded. Without a moment’s delay the chief executioner cut off the thief’s head, whence a blood-like liquid came forth. After this the king held audience with his court, during which intelligence was received that a rebellion had broken out on a certain frontier. Thereupon the king reviewed his troops and despatched several regiments supported by artillery to quell the uprising. A few moments later cannons were heard booming from behind the tent, and it was announced that a battle had been engaged.
This Youth regarded the scene with great amazement. When the royal audience was ended, the curtain was drawn, and, after some twenty minutes, a man emerged from behind the tent carrying a box under his arm.
“What is this box,” I asked him, “and what was the nature of this display?”
“All this lavish display and these elaborate devices,” he replied, “the king, the princes, and the ministers, their pomp and glory, their might and power, everything you saw, are now contained within this box.”
I swear by My Lord Who, through a single word of His Mouth, hath brought into being all created things! Ever since that day, all the trappings of the world have seemed in the eyes of this Youth akin to that same spectacle. They have never been, nor will they ever be, of any weight and consequence, be it to the extent of a grain of mustard seed. How greatly I marvelled that men should pride themselves upon such vanities, whilst those possessed of insight, ere they witness any evidence of human glory, perceive with certainty the inevitability of its waning. “Never have I looked upon any thing save that I have seen extinction before it; and God, verily, is a sufficient witness!” The Summons of the Lord of Hosts
What an amazing insight for a young child to have!
If you know of any other stories from the childhood of Baha’u’llah or of the other Manifestations that demonstrate Their innate wisdom, please share them with us in the comments.
In her professional life, Preethi has dabbled in various combinations of education, community development and law. At heart, though, she's an overgrown child who thinks the world is one giant playground. She's currently on a quest to make learning come alive for young people and to bring the world's stories and cultures to them, with educational resources from One Story Learning