Prayers were held in Bahai homes in Mumbai on Monday evening when the community commemorated the anniversary of the ascension of Abdul Baha, one of the founding leaders of the faith.
Abdul Baha was the eldest son of Bahaullah, the founder of the religion. He led the Bahais as their spiritual leader betwen 1892 and 1921 and is considered one of the three central figures of the faith.
More about Bahais
The Bahais, who follow a monotheistic faith, do not have priests, idols or religious symbols. Members form local units called Spiritual Assemblies which meet for prayers and public service missions. The faith's headquarters is in Haifa, Israel, where an elected nine-member body called the Universal House of Justice presides over matters of administration and spirituality.
During Monday's prayers, community members gathered at homes and the Bahai Centre at New Marine Lines to reflect on Abdul Baha’s life. They read the 'Tablet of Visitation', a prayer.
"The gathering provided an opportunity for the community to come together in unity and reverence, honoring the teachings and legacy of Abdul Baha," said Nargis Gaur, secretary of the local Spiritual Assembly.
Significance of Abdul Baha
Bahais said that Abdul Baha took the faith founded by his father in what was then Persia to the rest of the world, disseminating the religion's ideas of peace and unity. He interpreted the mystical writings of his father for the benefit of his followers. Persecuted for his religious beliefs in his homeland, he traveled across Egypt, Europe, and North America. The religion now has 1.8 million followers across the world, a majority of whom live in India, according to its members. The religion recognises a long line of religious teachers, including Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Zarathustra and Jesus as prophets. The community's most recognisable monument in India is Delhi's Bahai House of Worship, popularly called the Lotus Temple. The community is building another temple in Bihar Sharif, Bihar.
"Bahaullah opened the faith to the world, his son took the message to the rest of the world, " said Gaur.
What is 'ascension'?
Abdul Baha's death anniversary, which his followers call the 'ascension', is a reminder of his profound impact on the Bahai community and his tireless efforts to promote unity, justice, and peace," said Gaur.
Members of the faith come from diverse backgrounds. Jaya Putran, a former furniture salesman, stumbled into the religion when he caught snatches of a conversation between two Bahais. "I heard the word Krishna. I was fascinated and was invited to one of the meetings. I come from a place with a lot of religious conflict and this religion is a uniting force," said Putran, who said that his hometown was in Mangalore district of Karnataka.
Like Putran, many Bahais are first-generation converts to the faith. Shatrughun Jivnani, a retired businesman, said that he was attracted to the faith's message of the universality of all faiths. "Once you become a Bahai you automatically accept all other faiths of god," said Jivnani. "We follow one religion but we believe that, in essence, all religions are one. Spiritual laws are the same for all religions, but social laws - about food and clothing change. This idea appealed to me."
Chandrakant Butle, a language translator, said he faced resistance from his family when he decided to follow the new faith. "I come from a family that has been active in social causes. had many Bahai friends and I was convinced by the religion's open mindedness and care for humanity," said Butle. "My parents were especially apprehensive when they heard the names of the spiritual leaders, but I could explain the faith's principles to them convincingly," said Butle.