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Subhánika-Yá-hu, also known as the Lawh-i-Naqus
faculty notes by Stephen Lambden, R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram

Notes by Stephen Lambden, translator's introduction:

Introductory Note

Miscellaneous Bahá'í sources indicate that the wholly Arabic Lawh-i-naqus ("Tablet of the Bell") or (after the constant refrain) Lawh-i Subhánika ya-hu ("Tablet of Praised be Thou, O He!") is to be dated to 1280/1863 CE or to the period of Bahá'u'lláh's residence in Istanbul (Constantinople). The title Lawh-i-naqus derives from the words "Strike the Bell (naqus)" in the opening (post introductory) line (see below). Bahá'u'lláh wrote it in his own hand on the evening of the (lunar) celebration of the declaration of the Báb (5th of Jumadi al-Awwal 1280 AH = October 19th 1863 CE). It was apparently on that occasion that Áqá Muhammad `Alí Tambaku Furush-i Isfahani precipitated this revelation through the intermediary of `Abdu'l-Bahá (see letter of Shoghi Effendi to Mírzá Badí`u'lláh AgahaBadíhi.. cited Ganj, 71; Taherzadeh RB 2:18).

The non-qur'anic Arabic loan-word naqus derives from (Christian) Aramaic- Syriac (naposha / naqqus) and indicates a pierced wooden clapper-board which had a gong or bell-like function in making a noise when hit with a stick. It was used in Eastern Christian regions for calling the faithful to worship or to other religious functions. Around (Eastern) Christian churches the naqus was sounded, clapped and, like the Islamic mu`adhdhin, called the faithful to assemble for prayer. Perhaps this sound was heard by Bahá'u'lláh around Christian churches in Istanbul.

In Bábí-Bahá'í scripture there are various references to the (eschatological) naqus. In a number of his writings Bahá'u'lláh personifies himself as the "Bell" (naqus) which summons the faithful to enter the Abha paradise or Kingdom of God (the Bahá'í religion). His revelation is the ringing of the "Bell" of his Person which invites humankind to the assemblage of paradise. One may recall, for example, the following opening lines from the second Tablet of Bahá'u'lláh to Napoleon III:
"O King of Paris! Tell the priest to ring the bells [lit. `strike the clapper- boards ' nawaqis] no longer. By God, the True One! The Most Mighty Bell [al- naqus al-afkham = Bahá'u'lláh] hath appeared in the form of Him Who is the Most Great Name [al-ism al-a`zam], and the fingers of the will of Thy Lord, the Most Exalted, the Most High, toll it out in the heaven of Immortality, in His name, the All-Glorious [al-abha] ..." (trans. Shoghi Effendi, PDC: 29).

In making the following tentative provisional translation I have consulted the Arabic texts of the Lawh-i-naqus published in Adi`a-yi hadrat-i mahbub (Cairo 1339/1920-1) 141-153 and Risala-yi ayyam-i tis`ih (rep. Los Angeles: Kalimát Press, 1981) 100-106 as well as various unpublished manuscripts. I have also benefitted from consulting the previous translations of `Alí Kuli Khán + Marzieh Gail (unpublished) and Denis MacEoin (see Rituals in Babism and Bahá'ísm [London 1994] App. XXVI, pp. 169-172). The following translation is not, however, based upon a critically established text nor is it in any way superior to those just mentioned. As the translation is fairly literal it will at times be virtually identical to previous renderings.

In diverse ways and in cryptic, mystical, Sufistic language Bahá'u'lláh celebrates the power of his recently, Ridwan-intimated (late April early May 1863) theophanic status. As the secreted "Monk of the Divine Unicity", he is bidden by God to go some way toward disclosing his elevated status; his being a supreme heavenly Maiden possessed of the power of divine revelation.

In line [3] and elsewhere in the Lawh-i-naqus, Bahá'u'lláh alludes to that portion of the Súrat al-huriyya (`Sura of the Maiden', the 29th sura of the Qayyum al-asma' mid. 1844 CE) in which the Báb makes reference to the partial yet stunning theophanic disclosure of a veiled, silken clad houri characterised by respelndent beauty (al-Bahá). Both lines 4 and 5, furthermore, for example, seem to allude to the person of Bahá'u'lláh as a conjunction or `incarnation' of the letters "B and "H" which constitute that Beauty-Splendour (Bahá) which, according to a well-known prophetic hadith (greatly beloved of Ruzbihan Baqli Shírázi d.1209 CE) is his pre-existent Reality — the prophet Muhammad is reckoned to have said "The Red Rose is expressive of the Beauty-Splendour of God" (Bahá'-Alláh)" (al-ward al-ahmar min Bahá' -Alláh).

      Stephen Lambden

Notes by R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram:

To add a little further context to the translation of the Lawh-i-naqus I thought it might be interesting to note the way in which it was originally used in the Bahá'í community. As one might guess from its form, the variant sections were cantillated by one person and everyone joined in on the repeated refrain. This is one of a number of Bahá'í texts that have this form. Obviously, there are Sufi models for such a practice, and indeed there is even evidence of Bahá'í performance of the Lawh-i-Naqus being taken for Sufi devotions.

A melody used for the refrain can be found on page 345 of my Music, Devotions, and Mashriqu'l-Adhkár. It was transcribed from a slip of paper in the archives of the Chicago Bahá'í community and seems to have been notated from the singing of Ameen Fareed. This notation of the melody probably dates from around 1906. I was told in the early 1980s by two Bahá'ís who grew up in Bahá'í families in Tehran in the 1930s and 1940s that it was the melody used for the refrain in their childhood.

Although it is no longer a familiar devotional form to most Bahá'ís, it seems likely that the communal devotional use of these verse and refrain texts was once well known and fairly certain that that is what they were intended for.

We might note that Shoghi Effendi's early translation of the Tablet of the Holy Mariner was titled "The Song of the Holy Mariner." The repeated text was called a "burden" which is a somewhat archaic term for a sung refrain, as in a traditional ballad. Thus, it seems that his concept of this text also was framed in terms of a tradition of communal song practice.

      R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram

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