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Apr 20, 2019, 12:43 IST

Festival of Ridvan

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The 21st of April marks the first day of a twelve-day “King of Festivals”, celebrated through prayer, socialization, and in many other ways by members of the Bahá’í Faith according to the local customs of their diverse communities throughout the world. 156 years ago today, under sorrowful circumstances, the Founder of this Faith first revealed his most momentous, transformative and joyous secret.

Bahá’u’lláh’s successive exiles were times of grief and uncertainty that coincided with important stages in the development of his Faith. A native of Persia, his first exile came in 1853 at the age of 35, just after he had begun his mission on earth as a Messenger of God. At the time, he was already an outspoken promoter of each human being’s right to seek God independently, all women’s rights to equality with men, and many more of the teachings that would eventually come to be inseparably identified with his Faith; but his identity as the founder of a world religion at that time was still unknown to anyone but himself.

Between 1853 and 1863, Bahá’u’lláh lived with his family in Baghdad, Iraq, and developed a community that believed in the fundamental principle of the oneness of religion — that all God’s Messengers (such as Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad) speak on behalf of the same Lord of creation, that all their Messages connect together in a single system of divine education, and that many of the prophecies and miracles surrounding these Messengers are meant to be understood metaphorically according to scientific and symbolic reasoning rather than rigid and shallow dogmas. Those who were sensitive enough to these first stirrings of the dawn of a new stage in this divine curriculum for planet earth had already guessed that Bahá’u’lláh was himself one of those infinitely wise and loving Divine Messengers he spoke of, however this was still something of an open secret among them, strongly suspected but not yet confirmed.

When the political and religious leaders of the deeply dogmatic society he lived in decided to banish Bahá’u’lláh once again, his community was distraught. So many people came to visit him and grieve over his upcoming departure that he was forced to depart from his house and receive his guests in a garden on an island in the middle of the Tigris river while the rest of his family made the specific arrangements for the exile. It was in this time of deep sorrow that Bahá’u’lláh finally affirmed the hopes of the followers who came to see him, that he was indeed the Divine Messenger that had been foretold in so many of the Holy Books going back through the ages. This confirmation changed the believers’ sorrow into joy, their fear into confidence, and gave them the strength to endure the many changes and challenges that still lay ahead of them. That time and that place both came to be known by the name of “Riḍván”, or “Paradise”, because of the transformative effect Bahá’u’lláh had on the people who came to see him there.

One of Bahá’u’lláh’s first acts after announcing his divine mission in the garden of Riḍván was to completely abolish the practice of holy war. The time had come for humanity to understand that the conflicts and wounds which had divided human beings from one another for so long were now to be healed, and that every step should be taken for the peoples of the world to become organically unified, like a single human body whose diverse members assist one another in authentic relationships guided by justice.

We live in a time of sorrow today, when many communities are divided by conflicts that claim to be religious in nature, but in reality revolve around politics and power. Commemorating the Festival of Riḍván can bring hope and courage to all the peoples of India and the world who long for peace. As Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “By God! This is the Day whereon the veils of contention were torn asunder, and the breezes of unity were wafted, and the Lord of creation appeared, invested with manifest sovereignty and riding upon the clouds of grandeur on this, His promised Day.”


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