Celebrating the Baha’i Ridvan Festival

From the sunset of April 20 until the sunset of May 1, members of the Baha’i faith will celebrate the 12 Days of Ridvan or what Baha’is call the “Most Great Festival” or “King of Festivals.” The Ridvan Festival celebrates the declaration of Mirza Husayan Ali Nuri as the Baha’u’llah, the modern messenger of God and the “Promised One” prophesied by the Bab. For Baha’is, there are the five important festivals related to their faith; the birth of the Bab, declaration of the Bab, birth of Baha’u’llah, Naw-Ruz or Baha’I New Year, and the Ridvan or declaration of Baha’u’llah. The Ridvan Festival also commemorates the early establishment of Baha’i as a new and separate faith.

Historical origins of the festival

The festival accounts the 12 days stay of Baha’u’llah at the Najibiyyih Garden in Baghdad which he later called Garden of Ridvan (literally means “paradise”).

Ali Nuri or Baha’u’llah who lived during the Ottoman Empire was arrested and imprisoned in Tehran, Iran in 1852 for his involvement with the early Babism or Bab movement. And according to Baha’is, while incarcerated in Tehran, he experienced a revelation that he was the divine messenger being prophesied by the leader of the Bab movement. The next year, Baha’u’llah was exiled from Tehran to Baghdad. During his 10 years stay in Baghdad, he started to gain followers even attracting majority of the Babi followers. He also became too popular and eventually became a threat to the government. Baha’u’llah was again ordered to be exiled from Baghdad to Constantinople (Istanbul, Turkey).

After preparing to leave Baghdad, Baha’u’llah temporarily stayed at the Najibiyyih Garden which is located across the Tigris River. He stayed there for twelve days together with his family and a group of friends and followers. Though Baha’u’llah experienced the revelation years before, it was only during his arrival at the Najibiyyih Garden that he declared himself as the messenger of God.

Religious significance

Out of the twelve days of Ridvan, Baha’is consider three days as the most significant (holy days). The first day being Baha’u’llah’s arrival and declaration at the garden, the ninth day when his family arrived to join him and on twelfth or his departure day towards Constantinople. In line with his declaration, Baha’u’llah also made three announcements which eventually became the core principles of Baha’i faith today. First, he told his followers that religious war was not permissible. Second, there won’t be any other manifestation of God or prophet for 1000 years. And third, that “all the names of God were fully manifest in all things."

Festival celebrations

Gathering and communal prayers mark the celebration of the Ridvan Festival. Work and school are suspended for Baha’is especially during the three holy days. Children and youth members also read historical accounts of the 12 Days of Ridvan.

For the religious leaders, it’s the schedule to elect spiritual assemblies. And as a tradition, the religion’s Universal House of Justice publishes a yearly message to all Baha’is around the world. The message is mainly comprised of the short and long term plan of the organization’s leadership as well as the progress made in the past. The yearly message also reiterate’s the faith’s instructions to its members to promote youth and social welfare, education, spirituality and social involvement or participation.

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