By ROBERT BASSETT

Special to The Hays Daily News

The first day of Ridvan refers to the arrival of Baha'u'llah and his companions in the Najibiyyih Garden outside the city of Baghdad, subsequently referred to by the Baha'is as the Garden of Ridvan.

This event, which took place 31 days after Naw-Ruz, in April 1863, signalized the commencement of the period during which Baha'u'llah declared his mission to his companions. In a tablet, he refers to his declaration as "the day of supreme felicity" and he describes the Garden of Ridvan as "the spot from which he shed upon the whole of creation the splendors of his name, the all-merciful. Baha'u'llah spent 12 days in this garden prior to departing for Istanbul, the place to which he had been banished.

The declaration of Baha'u'llah is celebrated annually by the 12-day Ridvan Festival, described as "the holiest and most significant of all Baha'i festivals".

From April 21 to May 2, Baha'is observe the Festival of Ridvan. This most holy day commemorates the anniversary of Baha'u'llah's declaration in 1863 that he was the promised one of all earlier religions.

Baha'u'llah's declarations that he was "him whom God shall make manifest" and a manifestation of God mark the beginning of the Baha'i faith.

Ridvan (Rizwahn) was a bittersweet time, as Baha'u'llah was soon to be exiled to Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). This was the latest in his series of exiles by the Persian government, which considered Him to be a heretic.

Baha'u'llah spent 12 days in a garden in Baghdad visiting with his followers. His followers named the garden Ridvan, which means "paradise" or "good pleasure" in Arabic. The exact circumstances of the declaration are not known. According to Shoghi Effendi, guardian of the faith: "The fragmentary description left to posterity by his chronicler Nabil is one of the few authentic records we possess of the memorable days he spent in that garden. "Every day," Nabil has related, "ere the hour of dawn, the gardeners would pile the roses which lined the four avenues of the garden and would pile them in the center of the floor of His blessed tent. So great would be the heap

That when his companions gathered to drink their morning tea in his presence, they would be unable to see each other across it. All these roses Baha'u'llah would, with his own hands, entrust to those whom he dismissed from his presence every morning to be delivered, on his behalf, to his Arab and Persian friends in the city."

Baha'u'llah called Ridvan the most great festival and the king of festivals. He said:

"Call ye to mind, O people, the bounty which God has conferred upon you. Ye were sunk in slumber, and lo! He aroused you by the reviving breezes of his revelation, and made known unto you his manifest and undeviating path."

When he entered the garden, Baha'u'llah declared the Festival of Ridvan and made three announcements:

* He forbade his followers to fight to advance or defend the faith (religious wars had been permitted under past religions).

* He declared that there would not be another prophet for 1,000 years.

* He proclaimed that all the names of God were inherent in all things at that moment.

Baha'is suspend work on the holiest days of Ridvan -- the first (April 21), ninth (April 29) and 12th (May 2). These mark the day of Baha'u'llah's arrival in the garden, the arrival of his family and the group's departure for Constantinople.

At Ridvan, Baha'is elect members of local and national administrative bodies, called Spiritual Assemblies. Baha'u'llah taught that in an age of universal education, there was no longer a need for a special class of clergy. Instead, he provided a framework for administering the affairs of the faith through a system of elected councils at the local, national and international levels. International elections are every five years.

Baha'i elections occur through secret ballot and plurality vote, without candidacies, nominations or campaigning. In Hays, the Local Spiritual Assembly was reformed April 21 with nine adults age 21 or older.

Most Baha'i elections are conducted during Ridvan. The Universal House of Justice, the international Baha'i governing body, writes a letter to the Baha'i Community each Ridvan, summarizing the year's progress and setting future challenges.

A nine-minute presentation by Robert Stockman, a Baha'i and professor for religious studies at DePaul University, about Baha'i holy days and commonalities among different religions can be heard at media1.bahai.us/ bahaius/podcast/Holy_days_and_traditions.mp3

Robert Bassett is a member of the Hays Baha'i faith.