The Birth of the Revelation

An infinitely precious, divinely-ordained Revelation, glorious in its essence, dramatic in the circumstances of its birth, majestic in the person of its Bearer, distinguished by the universality of its Message and incomparably rich in the vastness of its Scriptures, was vouchsafed to humanity over a century ago by Bahá'u'lláh, the Manifestation of God for this age. Its light broke upon the world, unnoticed by the vast majority of mankind, from the confines of a dark and pestilential underground dungeon, the Síyáh-Chál of Tihrán. Here Bahá'u'lláh, in company with a handful of the followers of the Báb and surrounded by over one hundred and fifty criminals and assassins, lay imprisoned during the latter months of 1852.

Bahá'u'lláh, Whose name was Mírzá Husayn-'Alí, was a nobleman of the province of Núr in Persia. A great Bahá'í scholar, Mírzá Abu'l-Fadl, through extensive historical research has verified that Bahá'u'lláh was descended from Zoroaster and the Sásáníyán kings of Persia, thereby fulfilling certain traditions that the great Redeemer of mankind would be of pure Persian lineage. Bahá'u'lláh was also descended from Abraham through His third wife Katurah, thus uniting in His own person two branches of the Aryan and Semitic religions. He was born in Tihrán in 1817 and His father Mírzá 'Abbás, known in royal circles as Mírzá Buzurg, was at the court of the Sháh.

Almost nine years before His imprisonment in the Síyáh-Chál, Bahá'u'lláh, through a special envoy, received a message from the Báb,* Who claimed to be the Herald of that Universal


* Siyyid 'Alí-Muhammad (1819-50).

Manifestation of God foretold by the revealed religions of the world. Not long thereafter, Bahá'u'lláh arose to promote the Cause of the Báb, at first among His own relatives and close friends in the province of Núr, and then to others. As a result, several of them accepted the Báb and became active in making His Message known. Among these were some of Bahá'u'lláh's uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters and cousins, as well as certain notables and divines of Núr, a number of whom were later martyred.

To the noble qualities and virtues which had distinguished Bahá'u'lláh's life prior to the birth of the Bábí Revelation were now added the strength and radiance of a new Faith. Thus, inevitably, He attracted a great deal of public attention. His innate knowledge, His insight and wisdom, His indomitable faith, His open championship of the Báb, His irresistible eloquence when expounding the newly-born Faith to groups of learned divines and the public, together with His resourcefulness, His penetrating judgement, and His unobtrusive yet effective leadership of the Bábí community during the imprisonment of the Báb and after His martyrdom--all these brought Him the adoration and respect of that community. So highly did His fellow-disciples esteem Him that they refrained from mentioning His name and instead referred to Him in the plural as 'They'. At the conference of Badasht He was designated Jináb-i-Bahá,* an appellation which the pen of the Báb later confirmed.

The veneration shown to Him, coupled with His open proclamation of the Cause of the Báb, aroused the opposition of enemies who had already persecuted Him on various occasions and now awaited only an excuse, provided by the attempt on the life of Násiri'd-Dín Sháh by a few irresponsible Bábís, to imprison Him in the Síyáh-Chál. He was arrested and forced to walk before royal horsemen and at their pace from Níyávarán to Tihrán, a distance of about fifteen miles, in the burning heat of a summer day, barefoot and in chains. To further humiliate


* His Honour Bahá.

Him they removed His hat which in those days was the very symbol of a man's dignity.

The Síyáh-Chál (Black Pit) was no ordinary prison, but a huge underground pit which once had served as a reservoir for one of the public baths of the city, and had only one entrance. It was situated in the heart of Tihrán close to a palace of the Sháh and adjacent to the Sabzih-Maydán, the scene of execution of the Seven Martyrs of Tihrán. This dungeon was occupied by many prisoners, some of whom were without clothes or bedding. Its atmosphere was humid and dark, its air fetid and filled with a loathsome smell, its ground damp and littered with filth, and these conditions were matched by the brutality of the guards and officials towards the Bábí victims who were chained together in that dismal place. The notorious chains of Qará-Guhar and Salásil, one of which was placed around Bahá'u'lláh's neck at all times, cut through His flesh and left their marks on His blessed body till the end of His life. They were so heavy that a special wooden fork was provided to support their weight.*

Through the kindness of one of the prison officials who was friendly towards Bahá'u'lláh, His eldest son 'Abdu'l-Bahá, then nine years of age,† was taken one day to visit His Father at the Síyáh-Chál. He had descended only half-way down the steps when Bahá'u'lláh caught sight of Him and ordered that the child be taken out immediately. He was permitted to wait in the prison yard until noon when the prisoners were allowed an hour of fresh air. When 'Abdu'l-Bahá saw His Father, He was in chains and tied to His nephew, Mírzá Mahmúd. He walked with great difficulty, His beard and hair were unkempt, His neck bruised and swollen from the pressure of a heavy steel collar, and His back was bent with the weight of the chain. On witnessing this sight 'Abdu'l-Bahá fainted and was carried home, unconscious.


* Qará-Guhar, heavier than Salásil, weighed about seventeen 'man' (fifty-one kilos).

† According to the lunar calendar. He was born 23 May 1844 and was in His ninth year.

The fate of Mírzá Mahmúd was tragic. Notwithstanding the many favours that Bahá'u'lláh bestowed upon him and the unique honour which was his, to share the same chain as Bahá'u'lláh, he betrayed Him some years later by joining hands with His half-brother, Mírzá Yahyá, the breaker of the Covenant of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh's arch-enemy.

While breathing the foul air of the Síyáh-Chál, with His feet in stocks and His head weighed down by the mighty chain, Bahá'u'lláh received, as attested by Him in His Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, the first intimations of His station as the Supreme Manifestation of God--He Whose appearance had been foretold by the Prophets of old in such terms as the 'reincarnation of Krishna', the 'fifth Buddha', the 'Sháh Bahrám', the 'Lord of Hosts', the Christ returned 'in the glory of the Father', the 'Spirit of God', and by the Báb as 'Him Whom God shall make manifest'. These are Bahá'u'lláh's words describing this initial experience of the 'Most Great Spirit'* stirring within His soul:

During the days I lay in the prison of Tihrán, though the galling weight of the chains and the stench-filled air allowed Me but little sleep, still in those infrequent moments of slumber I felt as if something flowed from the crown of My head over My breast, even as a mighty torrent that precipitateth itself upon the earth from the summit of a lofty mountain. Every limb of My body would, as a result, be set afire. At such moments My tongue recited what no man could bear to hear.1

While Bahá'u'lláh lay in the prison of Tihrán, Násiri'd-Dín Sháh ordered his Prime Minister, Mírzá Áqá Khán, to send troops to the province of Núr and arrest the followers of the Báb in that area. The Prime Minister--who also came from Núr and was related to Bahá'u'lláh by the marriage of his niece

* The Manifestations of God have used different terms to describe the descent of the Spirit of God upon Them. In Christianity, the term 'Holy Spirit' is used, while Bahá'u'lláh designates this as the 'Most Great Spirit', signifying thereby the Revelation of God in its fullness.

1. Bahá'u'lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 22.
to Mírzá Muhammad-Hasan, His half-brother--made efforts to protect Bahá'u'lláh's relatives in Núr, but failed.

Bahá'u'lláh's properties were confiscated by the Sháh and His house in Núr was razed to the ground. Even the Prime Minister took advantage of the situation and, without recompense, transferred the deeds of some of Bahá'u'lláh's properties into his own name. The luxurious house of Bahá'u'lláh in Tihrán was plundered and its valuable furnishings were removed. Some unique articles, together with many more of great value, fell into the hands of the Prime Minister. Among them were part of a Tablet, inscribed on leather by the hand of Imám 'Alí, successor to Muhammad, which was over a thousand years old and known to be priceless, and a rare manuscript of the poems of Háfiz written by a celebrated calligrapher.*

Although most of the Bábís were taken from the prison, one by one, and martyred in the adjoining market square of Sabzih-Maydán, Bahá'u'lláh's life was providentially spared. After four months He was released, but was ordered to leave Persia within a month.


* Muhammad Sháh had once been eager to own this manuscript, but when he learned that for each of its twelve thousand verses he would have to pay one golden sovereign, he abandoned the idea.