150-year anniversary, 170-year calendar

walking these blessed pathsThis year, Bahá’ís in all corners of the world celebrate a special anniversary: 150 years since Bahá’u'lláh, the Manifestation of God for this age, openly declared His mission to humankind. Round numbers inevitably give pause for reflection, and there’s been quite a lot of it recently. Lots of blogs and news sites have posted some potent reflections about Ridván, including Bahá’í Blog (written by Ottawa/Dalian’s own James Howden), Bahá’í Perspectives (returning after a long hiatus), the Canadian Bahá’í News Service, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the Huffington Post, have all posted meaty articles about Ridván this year. Moreover, this year is that one year out of every five during which the Bahá’í International Convention takes place, a grand international gathering whose purpose is to elect the Universal House of Justice, the Institution at the head of the Bahá’í Faith. The convention starts on April 29, and delegates from around the world, from Virginia to Vietnam and from Finland to Fiji, have already gathered in the Holy Land to pray at the Bahá’í Shrines in Haifa and ‘Akká to prepare themselves for this most sacred duty.

The exhilaration one feels at living in this day, the day in which the newly reborn Faith of God is coalescing, raising up its Institutions and putting in place the structures that humanity needs to advance into the long-awaited stage of maturity, is incredible. So hard is it to describe that I don’t have too much to write about it yet. For the time being, I did want to address one very good question that’s come up recently that a few friends have had trouble putting to rest, one that has to do with the Bahá’í calendar.

So we know for a fact that Bahá’u'lláh declared His mission to the world 150 years ago in the Garden of Ridván in Baghdad, as He was preparing to leave on His exile to Constantinople, and that, as was powerfully presented at our community’s celebration of the First Day of Ridván, this Declaration transformed the sorrow of separation into the unbounded joy of witnessing the rebirth of God’s Faith. But, then, a few have asked, look at the Bahá’í calendar, which tells us that this year is numbered 170 B.E. Since the Declaration of Bahá’u'lláh in the Garden of Ridván was the start of the Bahá’í Faith, why don’t we say that this year is 150 B.E. (Bahá’í Era)?

The answer is actually pretty straightforward: The Bahá’í calendar was originally created by the Báb, who founded His own religion to foretell the coming of a messianic figure known as “He Whom God shall make manifest”, and prepared the way for His advent. The calendar’s original name was the Badí’ calendar, and, as most Bahá’ís know, it consisted of 19 months of 19 days, beginning at March 21 with the festival of Naw-Rúz. Since it was created by the Báb, the calendar’s “year one” was 1844, the year of His Declaration, so “day one” would have begun on March 21, 1844. (Actually, Bahá’í/Badí’ calendar days begin at sunset of the previous day, but that’s beside the point, so I won’t get into it right now.) That means that, according to the Badí’ calendar, we would now be in the year 170. See where this is going?

Look into the history of the Bábí and Bahá’í religions and you’ll learn that Bahá’u'lláh was originally a follower of the Báb, and one His religion’s most active and devoted promoters, before declaring His own station as the Supreme Manifestation of God the Báb had foretold. As mentioned previously, this took place in the Garden of Ridván in Baghdad, sometime between April 21 and May 2, 1863. But for whatever reason—perhaps out of respect for the Báb and His station as His forerunner, Bahá’u'lláh confirmed and adopted the Báb’s calendar instead of creating His own. The only adjustments He made were to specify a few details that the Báb had left open, such as the timing of intercalary days (Ayyam-i-Há). So the Badí’ calendar, which begins on March 21, 1844, became the Bahá’í calendar—which begins on March 21, 1844.

The relationship between the Báb and Bahá’u'lláh, known to Bahá’ís as the Twin Manifestations, is one of the most beautiful confirmations of what Bahá’ís refer to as God’s Eternal Covenant—in which God promises never to leave humankind without help and guidance. Again, it’s a little outside the point of this post, which was written just to clear up the question of why the Bahá’í calendar begins in 1844 rather than in 1863. If you’re curious to know more, then by all means read more about it, and read more about the history involved, too!

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