The Festival of Ridván (April 21-May 2) termed by Bahá’u’lláh the “Most Great Festival” and the “King of Festivals” provides the occassion for the holiest days of the Bahá’í year. The first, the ninth, and the twelfth days of Ridván are Bahá’í Holy Days on which work should be suspended. Coming within a few days of each other, these Holy Days mark the high point of the Bahá’í year.
The Ridván Festival commemorates the anniversary of Bahá’u’lláh’s sojourn in the garden of Najib Pasha, outside Baghdad, during the twelve days before His banishment to Istanbul in 1863. The weeks before Bahá’u’lláh’s retirement to this garden had been tragically sorrowful ones for His friends and family. Informed of the government’s order which would remove Bahá’u’lláh from Baghdad and tear Him away from most of them forever, they mourned and lamented, crowding in and around His house in large numbers. Knowledge of the inevitable departure brought them nothing but sadness and despair.
However, it was on this occassion that Bahá’u’lláh chose to make a private declaration of His station to a few of the believers, who immediately accepted His claim. Bahá’u’lláh transformed the occassion of His banishment to Istanbul from tragedy to triumph. Today, the eve of Bahá’u’lláh’s banishment from Baghdad is commemorated each year by Bahá’í communities around the world, not as a time of sorrow or regret, but as a festival of great joy. The holiday stands as a demonstration of the power of the Manifestation of God to create good from evil, bring forth light from darkness, and win victory from seeming defeat.
Bahá’u’lláh’s declaration of His mission in the Garden of Ridván gave new faith to the handful of believers whom He chose to hear this new message. Moreover, it infused the entire gathering in the garden with joy and life. Even those who were completely unaware of the declaration felt a sense of happiness and joy. These feelings are relclaimed by the believers each year during the celebrations of the Most Great Festival.
The Ridván period has also been designated, by the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, as the time when Bahá’ís around the world must elect the institutions that will serve them through the coming year. Elections for the local Spiritual Assemblies (in ever locality where Bahá’ís reside), and National Spiritual Assemblies (in every country) are held each year during the twelve days of Ridván, preferably (in the case of local institutions) on the first day of Ridván. Every five years, the Universal House of Justice is elected during his same period. In gathering to say prayers and silently cast their ballots for the institutions that will guide them through the year, Bahá’ís symbolically renew their covenant with Bahá’u’lláh and redeem His declaration in the Garden of Ridván, affirming the structure of a living, world community established in His name.