Birthdays of founders of faiths, religions and other belief systems are festive occasions celebrated with joy and enthusiasm, to spread the message of love and hope. Such is the ongoing two-year period of celebrations by the Baha’i world community, of the bicentenary of the birth of the Bab and Baha’u’llah, respectively the Prophet-Herald and Founder of the Baha’i Faith.
Keen anticipation of the advent of God’s new messenger in the mid-19th century suffused the air with excitement and hope. Born as Siyyid Ali Muhammad, the 25-year-old descendant of Prophet Muhammad, declared his mission as the Imam. He was titled the Bab, meaning the Gate, because he announced the imminent appearance of another manifestation and dawn of a new spiritual dispensation. Interestingly, four Indians, guided by prayer and intuition, separately travelled and located their Imam in Iran, too. Thus India, a land with a rich spiritual heritage, established the earliest spiritual links with the Bab, and is today home to a large, vibrant Baha’i community.
The rapidly rising number of the Bab’s disciples in Iran attracted the wrath of a hostile clergy and government. The Bab was declared an enemy of Islam, arrested, imprisoned, and condemned to death after a mock-trial. His remains were gathered by devotees, kept in hiding and, over a period of years, transferred to Palestine and enshrined in a golden-domed mausoleum on Mount Carmel in Haifa.
Among the early followers of the Bab was Mirza Husayn Ali, son of a minister in the court of the Shah. An outspoken upholder of the Cause of the Bab, Mirza Husayn Ali, was arrested with hundreds, and here, he was bestowed with the divine intimation of his exalted station as God’s manifestation. Exiled first to Baghdad and then Akka in Palestine, he made the public declaration of his mission as God’s manifestation, heralded by the Bab and promised in holy scriptures as the Kalki Avatar, Maitreya Amitabha, Shahbahram, Messiah, Christ-returned and Imam Mehdi.. Thence forward he was titled Baha’u’llah.
During the forty years of imprisonment, an ocean of revelation flowed from his pen, reiterating the eternal truths and revealing new laws for a developing society and new world. He stressed upon the unity of God’s manifestations and endorsed the revelations of Krishna, Gautama Buddha, Moses, Zoroaster, Christ and Prophet Muhammad.
The iconic shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel, surrounded by terraced gardens with perennials and flowering plants from different countries, trimmed and manicured hedges, are today the greatest tourist attraction in Israel. Also, the shrine of Baha’ullah in Bahji, with its vast, beautifully laid ever-green gardens, attract tourists and pilgrims by the thousands. Both shrines are accorded UNESCO recognition as World Heritage Sites.
Easily identified among the bustling tourists at the twin shrines are the teeming Baha’i pilgrims from the farthest corners of the world, in their colourful native attire, speaking different languages and aglow with faith. They greet and embrace each other as long lost family members and share a common mien – the depth of their love and respect for the twin manifestations.
Knowing that Baha’is do not proselytize, yet have attracted to their faith people from every background of nationality, race, religion and ethnicity, validates the teachings of their twin manifestations, and fulfillment of the eternal promise of all scriptures, the unification of humankind – the Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam of our sages.