1999 - The Child of the Covenant (Adib Taherzadeh)
Thirty-one days after Naw-Ruz, on 22 April 1863, in the afternoon, Baha'u'llah moved to this garden, where He remained for twelve days. On the first day He declared His mission to His companions ['Abdu'l-Baha talk at Bahji 29 April 1916]. These twelve days are celebrated by the Baha'is as the Festival of Ridvan.
The departure of Baha'u'llah 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 to His house and crowded the streets and rooftops situated along His route to the river. They were weeping and lamenting 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 Baha'u'llah 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 later in the garden. In a Tablet Baha'u'llah mentions that when He had walked some way towards the gate, amid the crowds, a child[***] of only a few years ran forward 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.
[*** He was Aqa 'Ali, the son of Haji Mirza Kamalu'd-Din-Naraqi.]
Outside the house, the lamentation and weeping of those who did not confess to be His followers were no less spectacular and heartrending. Everyone in the crowded street sought to approach Him. Some prostrated themselves at His feet, others waited to hear a few words and yet others were content with a touch of His hands or 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 Baha'u'llah. These demonstrations continued all the way to the riverbank.
Before crossing the river, Baha'u'llah addressed His companions who had gathered around Him, saying:
O My companions, I entrust to your keeping this city of Baghdad, in the state ye now behold it, when from the eyes of friends and strangers alike, crowding its housetops, its streets and markets, tears like the rain of spring are flowing down, and I depart. With you it now rests to watch lest your deeds and conduct dim the flame of love that gloweth within the breasts of its inhabitants.
[80 Baha'u'llah, quoted in ibid. p. 149. (God Passes By.)]
Baha'u'llah was then ferried across the river, accompanied by three of His sons: 'Abdu'l-Baha, Mirza Mihdi (the Purest Branch) and Muhammad-'Ali, who were 18, 14 and 10 years of age, respectively. With them also was His amanuensis, Mirza Aqa Jan. The identity of others who may have accompanied Him, of those in the garden who pitched His tent and made 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 muezzin,[*] reverberated through the garden as the King of Glory entered it. There, Baha'u'llah appeared in the utmost joy, walking majestically in its flower-lined avenues and among its trees. The fragrance of the roses and the singing of the nightingales created an atmosphere of beauty and enchantment.
[*The one who calls to prayer.]
Baha'u'llah's companions had, for some time, known the declaration of His station to be imminent. This realization came to them not only as a result of many remarks and allusions made by Him during the last few months of His sojourn in Baghdad but also through a noticeable change in His demeanour. Another sign which unmistakably pointed to this approaching hour was His adoption, on the day of His departure from His house in Baghdad, of a different type of headdress known as taj. (tall felt hat), which He wore throughout His ministry. 'Abdu'l-Baha has described how, upon His arrival in the garden, Baha'u'llah declared His station to those of His companions who were present and announced with great joy the inauguration of the Festival of Ridvan. Sadness and grief vanished and the believers were filled with delight. Although Baha'u'llah was being exiled to far-off lands and knew the sufferings and tribulations which were in store for Him and His followers, yet through this historic declaration He changed all sorrow into blissful joy and spent the most delightful time of His ministry in the Garden of Ridvan. Indeed, in one of His Tablets He referred to the first day of Ridvan as the 'Day of supreme felicity' and called on His followers to 'rejoice with exceeding gladness' in remembrance of that day.
[81 'Abdu'l-Baha, Risaliy-i-Ayyam-i-Tis'ah, p. 330.]
Baha'u'llah left the Garden of Ridvan on the first leg of His journey to Constantinople on 3 May 1863. Shoghi Effendi recounts this historic journey in these words:
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 Judgement, 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-traveller, '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.'
[83 Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 155.]
The journey to Constantinople was arduous and fatiguing, taking 110 days to reach the Port of Samsun on the Black Sea. The route took the party across uplands, woods, valleys and mountain passes which entailed the careful negotiation of narrow roads above dangerous precipices. Accompanying Baha'u'llah were members of His family, including His faithful brothers Aqay-i-Kalim and Mirza Muhammad-Quli, and 26 men, among them His disciples and Siyyid Muhammad Isfahani, as well as Mirza Yahya, who joined the party en route.