Ridván is designated the most sacred period in the Bahá'í year (21 April to 2 May inclusive). The first, ninth and twelfth days are Holy Days on which work and study should be suspended. Bahá'í communities usually hold events to celebrate one or more of these days.
We hear a brief account of the life of Bahá'u'lláh (1817-92), founder of the Bahá'í Faith, concentrating on the twelve days he spent in the Najibiyyih Garden on the banks of the Tigris, before he left Baghdad after ten years in that city, moving on to Constantinople, the next stage in his 40-year exile. This is the period that is commemorated in the Festival of Ridván. It is particularly significant for Bahá'ís as it was during this time that Bahá'u'lláh revealed to his closest family and friends his station as the Manifestation of God in our time. The site of this declaration is known among Bahá'ís as the Garden of Ridván (Paradise).
We share devotional readings from the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, many on the significance of his historic declaration and of the importance of this period in the Bahá'í year. In these writings, Bahá'u'lláh often refers to himself symbolically as a nightingale, his stream of revelation compared to the bird's song. During this devotional section, a recording of the nightingale's song is played in the background. Strange that no one has thought to have done that at any Bahá'í devotional gathering I've attended over more than 30 years!
At the same time, the Leicester Lodge of the Theosophical Society is holding its regular monthly meeting in the Library of the Quaker Meeting House. There's a friendly historical association between Bahá'ís and the Theosophical Society. When 'Abdu'l-Bahá (1844-1921) visited western countries a hundred years ago, the Theosophical Society hosted many of his public talks and published them in its journals. The motto of the Theosophical Society - "There is no religion higher than truth" - is of obvious appeal to Bahá'ís. Our two groups mix in the kitchen that we're both using this afternoon. I chat with a few of their members and give one of them my card so that I can be kept informed of future activities.
As evidence of how the Bahá'í Faith embraces the many cultures from which its followers are drawn, after the devotional part of the meeting we have a go at some Scottish country dancing! Rarely have the Military Two-Step and the Gay Gordons been subjected to such indignities! But we have a good laugh trying - or at least, trying not to injure oursleves and each other!
One of the friends reminds me that Vera Long, the first person in Leicester to accept the Bahá'í Faith, passed away during this Ridván period 20 years ago. I knew Vera and her husband John during the time I lived in Oakham, from 1987. They moved to Oakham from Leicester in 1963, to become the first Bahá'ís there. John outlived Vera by a year. They both did an enormous amont for the Bahá'í Faith throughout the world and it's fitting that they be remembered here.
We're pleased to welcome Cllr Manjula Sood, former Lord Mayor of Leicester, current Asssistant City Mayor and chair of Leicester Council of Faiths as our special guest in this meeting. Manjula is in the photo above, with a few of the friends who came today (the rest were in the tranquil garden of the Quaker Meeting House, enjoying tea and sunshine).