by Moojan Momenpublished in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Volume 9
New York: Columbia University, 1999
The major Bahai festivals and holy days have been fixed by the founders and central figures of the Bahai faith. Of the list below, the first five (totaling seven holy days) were established by Bahāʾ-Allāh in al-Ketāb al-aqdas (par. 110-111), and the last two were authorized by ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ. On these nine holy days, Bahais are to suspend all work. The Bahai calendar is based on the solar year. However, for the time being, all of the festivals and holy days listed below, except the first two and the sixth, are celebrated in the Middle East on their anniversaries according to the Muslim lunar calendar. In the rest of the world, all celebrations are in accordance with the solar year. It is expected that the Universal House of Justice (see BAYT AL-ʿADL), the supreme authority in the Bahai world, will eventually standardize this. Although there are no formal rituals associated with these holy days, Bahais often recite the Tablet of Visitation (Zīārat-nāma) for the Bāb and Bahāʾ-Allāh on the anniversaries of their birth and death.
Reżwān (ʿṟĪd-e Reżwān, 21 April-2 May). The most important Baha’i festival is the twelve-day period known as the festival of Reżwān, called by Bahāʾ-Allāh “the King of Festivals” and one of two “Most Great Festivals” (al-Ketāb al-aqdas, par. 112, 110). It commemorates the twelve days that Bahāʾ-Allāh spent in the Najībīya Garden outside the walls of the city of Baghdad, immediately before leaving the city in 1863. During these days, Bahāʾ-Allāh is reported to have disclosed to a few close followers the true nature of his claim. This marks the beginning of the prophetic dispensation of Bahāʾ-Allāh, for it was during these days that “He shed upon the whole of creation, the splendors of His name, the All-Merciful” (Montaḵabāt, p. 30; tr., p. 27). The first, ninth, and twelfth days of this twelve-day period are considered holy days on which work should be suspended—the observance of the first day should be at about three hours after noon. These are the days of Bahāʾ-Allāh’s arrival, his family’s arrival, and Bahāʾ-Allāh’s departure from the Najībīya Garden, respectively. Certain Bahai administrative functions take place during these days. Local spiritual assemblies (maḥāfel-e rūḥānī-e maḥallī) are elected on the first day of this festival. National spiritual assemblies (maḥāfel-e roḥānī-ye mellī) are elected some time during the twelve-day period at a national convention, except every fifth year when the international convention is held to elect the Universal House of Justice.
Nowrūz (ʿĪd-e Nowrūz). The new year in the Bahai calendar begins on the vernal equinox, the ancient Persian festival of Nowrūz. The first day of the new year is a festival and holy day. At present the Bahais in the Middle East celebrate this day as determined astronomically, while in the rest of the Bahai world it is always celebrated on 21 March. The Universal House of Justice will eventually determine the point in the world which will be used to fix the day of Nowrūz.
The Declaration of the Bāb (Baʿṯat-e Ḥażrat-e Aʿlā, 23 May). The Bāb himself fixed the day and time—two hours and eleven minutes after sunset—for the commemoration of the first announcement of his claims to his first disciple Mollā Ḥosayn Bošrūʾī. Bahāʾ-Allāh confirmed its importance as one of two “Most Great Festivals” (see above).
The Birth of the Bāb (Tawallod-e Ḥażrat-e Aʿlā, 20 October). This festival commemorates the birth of the Bāb in Shiraz in 1819.
The Birth of Bahāʾ-Allāh (Tawallod-e Ḥażrat-e Bahāʾ-Allāh, 12 November). This commemorates the birth of Bahāʾ-Allāh in Tehran in 1817. This and the birth of the Bāb occur on the first and second days of Moḥarram when observed according to the Muslim calendar. Bahāʾ-Allāh refers to them as the “Twin Birthdays” and says that they “are accounted as one in the sight of God” (al-Ketāb al-aqdas, tr. p. 105).
The Ascension of Bahāʾ-Allāh (Ṣoʿūd-e Ḥażrat-e Bahāʾ-Allāh, 29 May). Commemorates the death of Bahāʾ-Allāh in the mansion of Bahjī, near Acre (ʿAkkā) in Palestine in 1892. It is observed by Bahais at three hours after midnight.
Martyrdom of the Bāb (Šahādat-e Ḥażrat-e Aʿlā, 9 July). Commemorates the execution of the Bāb by firing-squad in Tabriz in 1850. It is observed by Bahais at noon.
There are two other festivals, but these are not holy days on which work should be suspended. They are the Ascension of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ (Ṣoʿūd-e Ḥażrat-e ʿAbd-al-Bahāʾ, 28 November), commemorating the death of ʿAbd-al-Bahāʿ in 1921; and the Day of the Covenant (Rūz-e āhd wa mīṯāq, 26 November), which commemorates the establishment of ʿAbd-al-Bahā’s position as the successor to Bahāʾ-Allāh.
Bibliography: al-Ketāb al-aqdas, Haifa, 1995; tr. as The Kitab-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book, Haifa, 1992. Montaḵabāt az āṯār-e Ḥażrat-e Bahāʾ-Allāh, Hofheim-Langenhain, Germany, 1984; tr. Shoghi Effendi as Gleanings from the Writings of Bahāδu’llāh, Wilmette, Ill., 1983. A compilation of scripture and other materials relating to the holy days can be found in ʿAbd-al-Ḥamīd Ešrāq Ḵāvarī, Ayyām-e tesʿa, Los Angeles, 1981. Similar material can be found in English translation in B. Forghani, ed., Days to Remember, Mona Vale, New South Wales, 1983, and in a series of books published by Kalimāt Press, Los Angeles, about each individual holy day.