Summary: a Bahá’í festival commemorating Bahá’u’lláh as a Manifestation of God
2018 Date: 21th April – 2nd May (sundown to sundown)
Celebrated by: Bahá’í Faith
Linked Holidays: Naw-Rúz
Background and Theological Significance
Ridván is the principal religious festival of the Bahá’í Faith, and is often referred to as the ‘Most Great Festival’. It is seen as the culmination of the prophecies of all the major theological traditions of the world. The twelve-day festival commemorates the time that Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Faith, spent in the Garden of Ridván near Baghdad, in 1863, during which he proclaimed that he was a prophet and a Manifestation of God; literally ‘He Whom God Shall Make Manifest’. Bahá’u’lláh privately claimed to be this figure and in doing so became, in the eyes of his followers, the Messianic figure that fulfils the great theological traditions of the past. His words became the word of God.
Ridván means paradise and takes the name of the garden in Baghdad of the same name. Bahá’u’lláh’s move from his house to this garden is seen to echo Mohammed’s move from Mecca to Medina to escape persecution. The news of Bahá’u’lláh’s impending banishment to Constantinople (See the History Section for more details). His followers were understandably depressed. His announcement gave the community new purpose and transformed the tragedy into a triumph both personal and theological.
Bahá’í theology sees fundamental unity in both the people of the world and the major theological traditions, which they see as progressive in the sense that they build upon one another with new revelations from God over time. Buddha, Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed are all seen as manifestations of divinity and as bringing a broader and more complicated revelation to the world.
Bahá’u’lláh is seen as the latest manifestation of divinity and the last in this cycle of revelations, the next manifestation of God is not expected for a thousand years after Bahá’u’lláh (roughly 800 year from now for those of you keeping count).
As a result his revelation is seen to be best suited to the modern age we find ourselves in. Followers of Bahá’í theology argue strongly against the divisions that have come to define us, such as race and nationality. Ridván also marked the point when Bahá’u’lláh removed the possibility of war fought in the name of the Bahá’í faith. Considering the violence, destruction and wars that have occurred due to a fanatical adherence to such divisions in humanity in the 1900s through to today, these teachings are certainly worth listening to.
Bahá’í theology traces its roots to the founding of Bayání theology (also known as Bábism), an offshoot of Islam, in 1844. The Bayání community was persecuted since its inception in what is now Iran.
In 1863 Bahá’u’lláh, their leader at the time, was in the process of moving from Persia to Ottoman Constantinople (Currently Istanbul) to escape persecution. 10 years previously, in 1853, he had been banished from Persia, but the Persian government did not want his followers in Baghdad which was close to the Persian border, and so the Ottomans agreed to move him to Constantinople.
The move to the garden was necessary in order to accommodate the many guests that Bahá’u’lláh received when word of his pending removal from the city had spread. He stayed in Ridván Garden for 12 days. It was during this time with his family in the Garden that Bahá’u’lláh declared himself to be ‘He Whom God Shall Make Manifest’.
The festivities last for 12 days, matching the 12 days that Bahá’u’lláh stayed in Ridván Garden with his family. This year, 2018, it will run from sundown on Saturday the 21th of April till Wednesday the 2nd of May.
This is the foundation of the Bahá’í community, which has since steadily grown and spread to incorporate between 5 – 7 million people worldwide. Ridván is a time of renewal for the community and has become the time that the leadership of the community sends messages to all the members of the community looking back over the previous year, and offering guidance for the year to come. It is also a time when new leadership is chosen for the local and national leadership through elections.
Alongside this refreshing and renewing of the leadership and covenant that binds the community together there are specific meetings that take place. On the first day, marking Bahá’u’lláh’s arrival in the Garden; the ninth day, marking the arrival of his family; and the twelfth day, marking their departure from the Garden, work is prohibited for members of the community. On these days the people come together to pray, feast, and celebrate. Alongside the prayers there are normally readings from eyewitness accounts of community members present at the Garden in 1863 with Bahá’u’lláh and his family.
In this way the community is tied together in remembrance, celebration, prayer, and a renewal of purpose that sustains them year on year.
‘Ridvan Garden Baghdad‘ is an image of the garden that Bahá’u’lláh stayed in 1863, it is in the public domain.