April 18, 2015

Bahá’u’lláh’s departure for the Garden of Ridván

The love and admiration of the people of Baghdad for Bahá'u'lláh was fully demonstrated on the day of His departure from His 'Most Great House' in Baghdad. Then His majesty and greatness were evident to both friend and foe. The news of His forthcoming departure for Constantinople had spread rapidly among the inhabitants of Baghdad and its neighbouring towns, and large numbers wished to attain His presence and pay their last tributes to Him. But soon it became apparent that His house was too small for the purpose. When Najib Pasha, one of the notables of the city of Baghdad heard of this, he immediately placed his garden-park, Najibiyyih, at the disposal of Bahá'u'lláh. This beautiful garden, designated by His followers as the Garden of Ridván (Paradise), was situated on the outskirts of Baghdad, across the river from Bahá'u'lláh's house.

Thirty-one days after Naw-Ruz, on 22 April 1863, [1] in the afternoon, Bahá'u'lláh moved to this garden, where He remained for twelve days. On the first day He declared His Mission to His companions. [2] These twelve days are celebrated by the Bahá'ís as the Festival of Ridván.

The departure of Bahá'u'lláh from His house witnessed a commotion the like of which Baghdad had rarely seen. People of all walks of life, men and women, rich and poor, young and old, men of learning and culture, princes, government officials, tradesmen and workers, and above all His companions, thronged the approaches of His house and crowded the streets and roof-tops situated along His route to the river. They were lamenting and weeping the departure of One Who, for a decade, had imparted to them the warmth of His love and the radiance of His spirit, Who had been a refuge and guide for them all.

When Bahá'u'lláh appeared in the courtyard of His house His companions, grief-stricken and disconsolate, prostrated themselves at His feet. For some time He stood there, amid the weeping and lamentations of His loved ones, speaking words of comfort and promising to receive each of them in the garden of Ridván later.

Bahá'u'lláh describes in a Tablet how a child of only a few years old ran from amongst the crowd and, clinging to His robes, wept aloud, begging Him in his tender young voice not to leave. In such an atmosphere, where emotions had been so deeply stirred, this action on the part of a small child moved the hearts and brought further grief to everyone.

The scenes of lamentation and weeping of those who did not confess to be His followers outside the house of Baha’u’llah were no less spectacular and heart-rending. Everyone in the crowded street sought to approach Him. Some prostrated themselves at His feet, others waited to hear a few words, yet others were content with a touch of His hands, a glance at His face. A Persian lady  of noble birth, who was not herself a believer, pushed her way into the crowd and with a gesture of sacrifice threw her child at the feet of Bahá'u'lláh. These demonstrations continued all the way to the bank of the river.

Before crossing the river, Bahá'u'lláh counselled the Bábís residing in Baghdad to maintain the good reputation of the Teachings of the Báb through their conduct.

Bahá'u'lláh was then ferried across the river, accompanied by three of His sons: 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Mirza Mihdi (the Purest Branch) and Muhammad-'Ali, who were eighteen, fourteen and ten years of age, respectively. With them also was His amanuensis, Mirza Aqa Jan. The identity of the others who may have accompanied Him, or of those in the garden who had pitched His tent and were making preparations for His arrival, or of those who might have followed Him on that day, is not clearly known.

The call to afternoon prayer was raised from the mosque and the words 'Allah'u'Akbar' (God is the Greatest) chanted by the man calling the faithful to prayer reverberated through the garden as the King of Glory entered it. There, Bahá'u'lláh appeared in the utmost joy, walking majestically in its avenues lined with flowers and trees. The fragrance of the roses and the singing of the nightingales created an atmosphere of beauty and enchantment.

(Adapted from ‘The Revelation of Baha’u’llah, vol. 1’, by Adib Taherzadeh)

[1] Thirty-one days after Naw-Ruz (21 March) normally falls on 21 April. Occasionally, as in the year 1863, when the vernal equinox takes place after sunset, Naw-Ruz is celebrated on 22 March.
[2] This was stated by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in a talk given at Bahji on 29 April 1916.