May 292016


Today is Oak Apple Day in England and that is fixed   It could also be Castleton Garland day in England, and the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh (Bahá’í calendar) worldwide. However, in both cases it is not today this year. May 29 is the usual day for these celebrations (according to the Gregorian calendar), but they can shift a day now and again.  Castleton Garland is easy to explain; it occurs on 29 May unless it is a Sunday (as it is this year – 2016) in which case it is held on Saturday 28th.

The Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh is more complicated. Bahá’u’lláh (Arabic: بهاء الله‎‎, “Glory of God”, born Mírzá Ḥusayn-`Alí Núrí (Persian: میرزا حسینعلی نوری‎‎), was the founder of the Bahá’í Faith. He died on this date in 1892 and his death is celebrated as the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh  within the Bahá’í faith. The date is fixed within the Bahá’í calendar, but can shift a little within the Gregorian calendar because the Bahá’í calendar is pegged to the vernal equinox (which can be either 20 or 21 March). Things are made a little more complicated by the fact that days within the Bahá’í calendar begin at sunset, and the date of the equinox varies according to time zone.


The Bahá’í calendar was based on the original Badí‘ calendar, created by the Báb (founder of Bábism and central to Bahá’í) in the Kitabu’l-Asmá’ and the Persian Bayán in the 1840s. It uses a scheme of 19 months of 19 days (19×19) for 361 days, plus intercalary days to make the calendar a solar calendar. The first day of the early implementation of the calendar year was Naw-Rúz, while the intercalary days were assigned variously. The calendar contained symbolic connexions to prophecies of the Báb concerning the next Manifestation of God termed “He whom God shall make manifest.”

Bahá’u’lláh, who claimed to be the messenger prophesied by the Báb, confirmed and adopted this calendar. Around 1870, he instructed Nabíl-i-A`zam, the author of The Dawn-Breakers, to write an overview of the Badí’ calendar. In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (1873) Bahá’u’lláh made Naw-Rúz the first day of the year, and also clarified the position of the intercalary days which should immediately precede the last month. Bahá’u’lláh set Naw-Rúz to the day on which the sun passes into the constellation Aries. Bahá’ís interpret this formula as a specification of the vernal equinox, though the global position where that should be calculated was not defined.

The Bahá’í scriptures left some issues regarding the implementation of the Badi’ calendar to be resolved by the Universal House of Justice (global governing body of Bahá’í) before the calendar could be observed uniformly worldwide. On 10 July 2014 the Universal House of Justice announced provisions that enabled the common implementation of the Badi’ calendar worldwide, beginning at sunset 20 March 2015, coinciding with the completion of the ninth cycle of the calendar.

The Bahá’í calendar in Western countries was originally synchronized with the Gregorian calendar, meaning that the extra day of a leap year occurred simultaneously in both calendars. The intercalary days stretched from 26 February to 1 March, so they automatically included the Gregorian leap day. There were four intercalary days in a regular year, and five in a leap year. The practice in Western countries was to start the year at sunset on March 20, regardless of when the vernal equinox technically occurred.


In 2014, the Universal House of Justice selected Tehran, the birthplace of Bahá’u’lláh, as the location to which the date of the vernal equinox was to be fixed, thereby freeing the Badí’ calendar from the Gregorian calendar. For determining the dates, astronomical tables from reliable sources are used.

In the same message the Universal House of Justice decided that the birthdays of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh would be celebrated on “the first and the second day following the occurrence of the eighth new moon after Naw-Rúz” (also with the use of astronomical tables) and fixed the dates of the Bahá’í Holy Days in the Bahá’í calendar, standardizing dates for Bahá’ís worldwide. These changes came into effect as of sunset on 20 March 2015.

Normally the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh falls on 29 May in the Gregorian Calendar when the vernal equinox in Tehran is on 21 March, but this year (2016) Naw-Rúz fell on 20 March, so the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh was celebrated on 28 May (around 3 am). However, by the Gregorian calendar Bahá’u’lláh died around 3 am on 29 May 1892.


Bahá’u’lláh was born Mírzá Ḥusayn-`Alí Núrí (Persian: میرزا حسینعلی نوری‎‎). Although he claimed to be the prophetic fulfillment of Bábism, a 19th-century outgrowth of Shí‘ism, in a broader sense he claimed to be a messenger from God referring to the fulfillment of the eschatological expectations of Islam, Christianity, and other major religions.

Bahá’u’lláh taught that humanity is one single race and that the time has come for its unification in a global society. He taught that “there is only one God, that all of the world’s religions are from God, and that now is the time for humanity to recognize its oneness and unite.” His claim to divine revelation resulted in persecution and imprisonment by the Persian and Ottoman authorities, and his eventual 24-year confinement in the prison city of `Akka in Palestine (present-day Israel), where he died. He wrote many religious works, totaling over 100, most notably the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the Kitáb-i-Íqán, and Hidden Words.


In the Bahá’í Faith, religious history is seen to have unfolded through a series of divine messengers, each of whom established a religion that was suited to the needs of the time and to the capacity of the people. These messengers have included Abrahamic figures—Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, as well as figures from Indian religions like Krishna, Buddha, and others. For Bahá’ís, the most recent messengers are the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. In Bahá’í belief, each messenger prophesied of messengers to follow, and Bahá’u’lláh’s life and teachings fulfilled the end-time promises of previous scriptures. Humanity is understood to be in a process of collective evolution, and the need of the present time is for the gradual establishment of peace, justice and unity on a global scale.

There are two known photographs of Bahá’u’lláh. Outside of pilgrimage, Bahá’ís prefer not to view his photo in public, or even to display it in their private homes, so I will follow suit here. I do know what he looked like.

Bahá’í eating practices are based on a desire for a healthy body and as religious observances. Thus there is a 19-day fast at the end of the year when the faithful may not ingest anything, including water, during sunlight hours. Otherwise, alcohol is completely forbidden, even in cooking, and a diet of fruit, vegetables, nuts, and grains is preferred, although meat is not forbidden. There is a general eschatological belief that the consumption of animal products will eventually end. Persian cuisine at the time of Bahá’u’lláh was in a period of transition, suitable for his philosophy. A recently discovered anonymous MS (WMS Pers 2013/1 ) shows just how heavily Western cooking fashions were entering the tradition. The recipes are written in Persian but are of French origin.


Kateh is the basic rice recipe from northern Iran. It is much simpler than pilau recipes found throughout Middle Eastern and South Asian cultures, and is suitable today because it is basic, vegan, and easy. You can use it to accompany all manner of dishes.


Start with 3 cups of basmati rice.  Wash the rice in cold water twice, drain the water, and then let the rice soak in fresh water for at least 2 hours.

Drain the rice again and put it in a non-stick saucepan. Add 5 cups of water, 4 tablespoons of your choice of oil and salt to taste. Mix thoroughly.

Bring the water to a rolling boil, skim off any scum, and let the water boil until the water level sinks to just below the rice level.

Cover the pan tightly (you can wrap the lid in a towel), and cook over low temperature for about 30 minutes.

As with every traditional recipe of this sort, experience counts. It is common to add saffron to the rice for flavor and color.