Bahá’u’lláh was the son of a wealthy noble family. His family had extensive estates in their ancestral province of Nur. The transformation that Bahá’u’lláh’s life underwent from the day he was imprisoned in the Siyah-Chal is captured in the following passage from Bahá’u’lláh’s writings.
My God, My Master, My Desire!… Thou hast created this atom of dust through the consummate power of Thy might, and nurtured Him with Thine hands which none can chain up.… Thou hast destined for Him trials and tribulations which no tongue can describe, nor any of Thy Tablets adequately recount. The throat Thou didst accustom to the touch of silk Thou hast, in the end, clasped with strong chains, and the body Thou didst ease with brocades and velvets Thou hast at last subjected to the abasement of a dungeon … until, finally, Thy decree was irrevocably fixed, and Thy behest summoned this servant to depart out of Persia, accompanied by a number of frail-bodied men and children of tender age, at this time when the cold is so intense that one cannot even speak, and ice and snow so abundant that it is impossible to move.
After four months Bahá’u’lláh was released from the dungeon. The marks of the chains he bore for the rest of his life. He had only been with his family a few days when the Shah’s order arrived exiling him from his home and land and giving him one month to leave. He was still ill from his long imprisonment. His home had been wrecked and looted by mobs in the city of Tehran and his family were living in another quarter of the city. His ancestral estates in Nur had been confiscated. His ancestral home there razed to the ground.
On 12 January 1853, in the grips of a severe winter, Bahá’u’lláh and members of his family began their journey of banishment – ill prepared for what was before them. With them went imperial guards and an official of the Russian legation. Although offered the opportunity to seek safety in Russia, Bahá’u’lláh chose to exile in Baghdad – in what was then the Ottoman Empire. The route there passed over the Zagros mountains of western Persia. Crossing them in the middle of winter and completing the journey took the family 3 months – the conditions were so severe. The trip was normally one of a few weeks.
Despite the sufferings, his family members sensed a change in Bahá’u’lláh, following the religious revelation he underwent in the prison of Siyah-Chal. As his eldest daughter, Bah’iyyih Khanum, described in later years:
[Bahá’u’lláh] had a marvellous divine experience whilst in that prison. We saw a new radiance seeming to enfold him like a shining vesture, its significance we were to learn years later. At that time we were only aware of the wonder of it, without understanding, or even being told the details of the sacred event.[Adib Taherzadeh, Revelation of Baha’u’llah, volume 1, p 12.]
The exile to Baghdad was only the first and Bahá’u’lláh’s sufferings were just beginning. As was his religious mission. It was to endure through the next 40 years of his life of imprisonment and exile. With him, for every step of that journey, was his son Abdu’l Baha, who was only a 9 year old boy when he left his homeland, never to return. During the next 40 years Bahá’u’lláh’s writings poured out. Some have already been explored: the Seven Valleys, the Hidden Words, the Tablet of the Temple, Glad Tidings, the Ornaments . There are many more.
(This article is the 111th in a series of what I hope will be 200 articles in 200 days for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh. The anniversary is being celebrated around the world on 21 and 22 October 2017, The articles are simply my personal reflections on Bahá’u’lláh’s life and work. Any errors or inadequacies in these articles are solely my responsibility.)
Image Credits: Baha’i World News Service. Map shows the exiles of Bahá’u’lláh after He left Tehran. Constantinople is now called Istanbul.
Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh Volume 1
Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By
HM Balyuzi, Bahá’u’lláh, the King of Glory