The Story of Ridván (Paradise)
On the 26th March 1863, Bahá'u'lláh received a summons from the Sultan of Turkey to leave Baghdád and come to Constantinople (Istanbul).
In the ten years that Bahá'u'lláh had lived in Baghdád, as an exile from His native Persia, He had become a loved and respected figure and news of His imminent departure caused great consternation among those who knew Him. To make it possible for the streams of people who wished to visit Him one last time, a garden named Ridván (Paradise) on the outskirts of the city was made available and there Bahá'u'lláh spent 12 days, from 21st April to 2nd May 1863, prior to His departure on the long and arduous journey north with His family and followers.
It was during these 12 days that Bahá'u'lláh made known to his companions that He was the 'Promised One of All Ages'; 'He Whom God shall make manifest' and of His Mission to inaugurate an era of peace and justice through the spiritual regeneration of the whole human race. The weight of this knowledge Bahá'u'lláh had borne alone from the time of His incarceration in the black pit of the Siyáh-Chál prison in Tihrán ten years earlier.
Bahá'u'lláh Himself designated the 12 days of Ridván as 'The Most Great Festival' and it is celebrated as such by Bahá'ís around the world every year. Three of the days, the 1st, 9th and 12th, have special emphasis and are designated as Bahá'í Holy Days.
On the appointed afternoon, in the nineteenth year since the declaration of The Báb, Bahá'u'lláh emerged from the inner room of His House in Baghdad, and set out with Abdu'l-Bahá toward the Garden that lay over the River Tigris, ten minutes from the City gate. On His head He now wore conspicuously a taj, a tall, beautifully-adorned felt hat that He from that moment on would wear throughout His ministry.
The streets and housetops all along His way were crowded with Bahá'u'lláh's friends; such a commotion, Baghdad had rarely seen. Upon the way, and with an open hand, Bahá'u'lláh provided to the poor He had so faithfully befriended, uttering words of comfort to the disconsolate as they pleaded with Him on every side, until, at long last, Bahá'u'lláh managed to reach the banks of the River. As He prepared to cross, He entrusted the city of Baghdad to His devoted friends, that through their deeds and conduct, the flame of love would continue to glow within the hearts of its people.
Bahá'u'lláh boarded a small boat waiting for Him; the people pressed all around Him, wishing to be in His Presence for as long as they could. The boat pushed off, and ferried Bahá'u'lláh across the water, in company with 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the Purest Branch, another of His sons, and His secretary, and the companions on the bank all watched with sorrowing hearts as He receded into the distance. Bahá'u'lláh set foot on the opposite bank and crossed into the Garden, just as the call of 'God is the Greatest' resounded throughout the district from the pinnacles of the mosque, summoning the inhabitants to the late afternoon prayer, at two hours to sunset. Shortly after Bahá'u'lláh's arrival, the River rose up, making it difficult to cross, and it was only on the ninth day that the whole of Bahá'u'lláh's family was able to join Him.
On the very first day of the Ridván festivities, Bahá'u'lláh shone out to the world like the most brilliant sun. At that critical hour and without warning, amidst the unending multitude of interrupting visitors thronging His tent and the dangers such a news would bring to His exile, Bahá'u'lláh chose to lay bare the mystery surrounding His person, and assume the power and authority of the One promised by the Báb. He made known how the effulgence of the Eternal Truth had at that moment infused all created things with the life of every divine quality, immersing creation in the sea of purification; the sword was to be utterly cast from reach; and He made it known that the next Messenger would come to the world after a thousand years. In such a way, and through many signs, Bahá'u'lláh conveyed His position to those who were present, and announced with great joy the start of the Festival of Ridvan. Though on the threshold of His exile into great suffering in far-away lands, yet sadness and grief entirely vanished from everyone's hearts, and was replaced with unclouded delight.