Ridván, King of Festivals
There must be a mistake, I thought to myself, or maybe it was some kind of test.
Ask me what comes to mind when I think of Ridván (pronounced Riz-van), and it's likely to be hearing all those charming melismata. What are they, you ask? Melismata are the melodic vocal ornamentation so common to prayers chanted by people from the Middle East. In Los Angeles, where I live, there are quite a number of Persian Bahá'ís--Persia being the country where the Bahá'í Faith first began in the mid-19th century.
When I first joined the Bahá'í Faith over 30 years ago, I was fascinated by all things Persian: the language, the music, the food, but especially the beautiful manner of chanting prayers--one soul's humble voice raised in intimate conversation with God. The only similar sound I had ever heard was in travelogs where Islamic muezzin climb a minaret five times a day and call the Muslim faithful to prayer. For me, the Persian chanted prayers sound so very special, and I cherish them most at Bahá'í holy days.
Ridván, in case you're wondering, is the Arabic word for "paradise" and is known alternately as the "Most Great Festival" and the "King of Festivals." It observes not just one but 12 days: the length of time Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, spent with the early Bábís in the garden of Najíb Pasha on the outskirts of Baghdad in 1863, prior to His departure to Constantinople (modern day Istanbul).
Although Bahá'ís observe the whole 12 days of Ridván (April 21-May 2), we are required to refrain from work only three days: the 1st, 9th, and 12th days. According to Bahá'í guidance, the first day of Ridván is the only day in this festival that has a specific time for observation. It is held around three o'clock in the afternoon, corresponding to the approximate time Bahá'u'lláh told his followers about his mission.
If you're familiar with the history of the Bahá'í Faith then you know that at this time, Bahá'u'lláh had not yet revealed to the world His true station as a messenger of God. Instead He only informed a few close friends and members of His family, including `Abdu'l-Bahá, His oldest son.