The Burial of the Purest Branch and the
Mother of 'Abdu'l-Bahá

from an article by Rúhíyyih Rabbanni 1

The garden is dark. Twilight has fallen on Mount Carmel and the veils of dusk have deepened over the bay of 'Akká. A group of men stand waiting by the gate, beneath the steps. Suddenly there is a stir, the gardener runs to illumine the entrance and amidst the white shafts of light a procession appears. A man clothed in black rests the weight of a coffin on his shoulder. It is the Guardian of the Cause and he bears the mortal remains of the Purest Branch, Bahá'u'lláh's beloved son. Slowly he and his fellow bearers mount the narrow path and in silence approach the house adjacent to the resting place of the Greatest Holy Leaf. A devoted servant speeds ahead with rug and candelabra from the Holy Shrines and swiftly prepares the room. The gentle, strong face of the Guardian appears as he enters the door, that precious weight always on his shoulder, and the coffin is laid temporarily to rest in an humble room, facing Bahjí, the Qiblih of the Faith. Again those devoted servants, led by their Guardian, return to the gate and again remount the path with another sacred burden, this time the body of the wife of Bahá'u'lláh, the mother of the Master.

What a wave of joy seems to come onward with those simple processions! A joy indefinable, touched with deep tenderness and pathos. Like a great white pearl the marble temple marking the grave of Bahíyyih Khánum glows in the light of its reflectors, seeming afire on the dark mountain side, lighting up and watching over those two approaching the scene of their last resting place.


1. Printed in The Bahá'í World, Vol. VIII, pp. 253-8.
When we enter to pay our respects to those beloved, revered and long since departed ones, their presence seems to fill the room. At last, after seventy years, that saintly mother lies reunited beside her son of whom Bahá'u'lláh wrote: 'He was created of the light of Bahá.' Side by side, facing 'Akká, the sweet fumes of attar of rose with which they have been anointed by the Guardian filling the room, they lie. And above them, lit by the flickering lights of the sentinel candles, the picture of The Greatest Holy Leaf hangs, her beautiful eyes, so full of love and that purity which is goodness itself, looking out over her mother and brother. What cause for joy and gratitude!

That tender Youth, born to affliction, reared in exile, died in prison, buried in solitary haste! Here he lies, raised up from the earth by the hands of the Guardian of his Father's Faith, removed from the lonely isolation of the Arab cemetery where he had been interred so long ago and placed beside his illustrious sister and holy mother, that mother who was affectionately known as 'Búyúk Khánum' or 'Great Lady.' Slender, stately, lovely to look on with white skin and blue eyes and dark hair; she who, when Bahá'u'lláh was thrown into the dungeon of Tihrán, was abandoned by friend and foe alike and who purchased food for her children by selling the gold buttons of her robes; she who was forced to leave this same son, then a delicate child of four, behind her when she followed Bahá'u'lláh into exile; she whose tender hands, unaccustomed to work, bled as she washed the clothes of her family; who remained patient, devout, serene and selfless to the end of her life, and who was laid to rest near 'Akká in a cemetery away from her son, now lies beside him, so to remain forever more.

As we meditate beside those two eloquent coffins, covered with woven cloths, strewn with jasmine from the Threshold of the Báb's Tomb, so all pervading is the presence of their spirits--or maybe it is their memory, as perfume lingers when the flower is withered--that the very room they rest in for so short a while becomes itself filled with the sweet peace of a shrine.

Not only has the Guardian raised them to rest in their


rightful graves, put them where the whole world may see their honor and their glory, but in some mysterious way he has given them back to us. So long ago they passed away, so quietly, in days of such turmoil and oppression, were they laid to rest, that their places, at least to us of the West, were on written pages of the history of our Faith. But now their places are in our hearts. The veil of time and obscurity separating us has been rent asunder, and we find, to our joy and astonishment, two glowing and holy figures drawing nigh to us, entering into our lives, and ready to help us on that path which leads to their Lord and ours, Bahá'u'lláh...

Bahá'u'lláh asked of His dying son if he desired to live, but he replied that his sole desire was that the gates of the prison should be opened so that the believers might visit their Lord.

Bahá'u'lláh granted that youth's earnest wish and sat beside His youngest son as they made him ready for the grave, and it was in those tragic circumstances that He revealed the following: 'At this very moment My son is being washed before My face after Our having sacrificed him in the Most Great Prison...' 'Glorified art Thou, O Lord, My God! Thou seest Me in the hands of Mine enemies, and My son blood-stained before My face!' Such sentences as these were wrung from the heart of the Blessed Beauty as He gazed upon His child. But then thundering forth came these marvelous words: 'I have, O My Lord, offered up that which Thou has given Me, that Thy servants may be quickened and all that dwell on earth be united.' The tremendous significance of these words is inescapable; Bahá'u'lláh designates to His own child the rôle of blood offering in order that the unity of all men which He has proclaimed may come about. The sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham is accomplished.

After, in secrecy, poverty, and haste, the Purest Branch had been interred, his gentle mother, the victim of so many sorrows and deprivations, saddened and wept unceasingly. Bahá'u'lláh on learning of her plight came to her and assured her she had no cause for grief for God had accepted this precious son as His Ransom to draw not only the believers nigh unto their Lord but to unify all the sons of men. After hearing these words that saintly soul was greatly comforted


and ceased to mourn her heavy loss.

And who was such a mother? Not merely a holy and faithful woman, willing in the path of God to sacrifice her all, but she of whom Isaiah, in his 54th chapter, says:* 'For thy Maker is thy husband; the LORD of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall he be called.' 'For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the LORD that hath mercy on thee.' And she to whom Bahá'u'lláh revealed the following: 'Hear thou Me once again, God is well pleased with thee...He hath made thee to be His companion in every one of His worlds and hath nourished thee with His meeting and presence so long as His name and His remembrance and His kingdom and His empire shall endure.'

How fleeting and priceless the days that this mother and son lie side by side in that small room! To be privileged to draw close--in that strange and pitiful closeness one feels to a coffin in which all that remains of dear ones after the soul has flown rests, a token and reminder of our common mortality and immortality--is something never to be forgotten. Thousands will read these Prayers and Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh and 'Abdu'l-Bahá forever immortalizing them. They will supplicate those radiant spirits to intercede on their behalf. They will seek humbly to follow in their noble footsteps. But it will never, so it seems to me, be as sweet and touching as to see them lying there together under the watchful eyes of Bahíyyih Khánum.

Whilst their tombs were still in process of excavation from the solid rock of the mountain, the Guardian had learned that the Covenant-Breakers were protesting against the right of the Bahá'ís to remove the Mother and brother of 'Abdu'l-Bahá to new graves, actually having the temerity to represent to the government their so called claim as relatives of the deceased. As soon, however, as the civil authorities had the true state of facts made clear to them--that these same relatives had been the arch-enemies of the Master and His family, had left the true Cause of Bahá'u'lláh to follow their own devices, and had been


* The authority for this statement is the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá Himself in Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, vol. 1, p. 107. (R.R.)

denounced by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in His Will and Testament--they approved the plan of the Guardian and immediately issued the necessary papers for the exhumation of the bodies. Without risking further delay Shoghi Effendi, two days later, himself removed the Purest Branch and his mother to Mount Carmel where, watched over by the loving devotion of the believers, and safeguarded from any danger of insult or injury, they could await, close to Bahíyyih Khánum's shrine, their reinterment.

The last stone is laid in the two vaults, the floors are paved in marble, the name plates fixed to mark their heads, the earth smoothed out, the path that leads to their last resting place built, but storm and rain sweep unceasingly over the crest of the mountain postponing the final arrangements until the day before Christmas dawns, bright and clear, as if a sign that this is the appointed time. At sunset we all gather in that humble, twice blessed house. We hear the voice of one of the oldest and most devoted believers of the Near East raised, at the command of his Guardian, in prayer. Tremulous, faint, yet filled with a poignant faith and love hard to describe but never to be forgotten, he prays. As voice follows voice, one of them that of the Guardian himself, it seems as if one could almost hear the refrain of those prayers sung in triumphant joy by an invisible concourse on high.

And now, again on the shoulder of the Guardian, they are borne forth to lie in state in the Holy Tomb of the Báb. Side by side, far greater than the great of this world, they lie by that sacred threshold, facing Bahjí, with candles burning at their heads and flowers before their feet. It is the eve of the birth of Christ. She who was foretold of Isaiah, he who was the son of Him of Whom Jesus said: 'Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth,' rest quietly here their last night before the earth hides them forever more from the eyes of men.

The following sunset we gather once again in that Holy Shrine. The Guardian chants the Tablet of Visitation, first in the Tomb of the Báb, then in the Tomb of the Master. The privileged friends who have been able to make the pilgrimage to Haifa for this sacred occasion enter with the Guardian a


second time the Báb's Shrine. Slowly, held aloft on the hands of the faithful, led by Shoghi Effendi, who never relinquishes his precious burden, first the mother of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and then the Purest Branch are ushered from that Holy Spot. Once they circumambulate the Shrines, the coffin of beloved Mihdí, supported by the Guardian, followed by that of the Master's mother, passes us slowly by. Around the Shrine, onward through the lighted garden, down the white path, out onto the moonlit road, that solemn procession passes. High, seeming to move of themselves, above the heads of those following, the coffins wend their way. They mount the steps and once again enter that gate leading to Bahíyyih Khánum's resting place. They pass before us, outlined against the night sky, across whose face fitful clouds make sport of the full moon. They approach, the face of the Guardian close to that priceless burden he bears. They pass on towards the waiting vaults.

Now they lay the Purest Branch to rest. Shoghi Effendi himself enters the carpeted vault and gently eases the coffin to its preordained place. He himself strews it with flowers, his hands the last to caress it. The mother of the Master is then placed in the same manner by the Guardian in the neighbouring vault. Not six feet apart they rest. The silent faces of the believers in the brilliant light of the lamps, form a waiting circle. Masons are called to seal the tombs. Respectfully and deftly they fulfil their task. Flowers are heaped upon the vaults and the Guardian sprinkles a vial of attar of rose upon them. The pungent scent is caught up on the breeze and bathes our faces. And now the voice of Shoghi Effendi is raised as he chants those Tablets revealed by Bahá'u'lláh and destined by Him to be read at their graves.

Surely this is a dream? It cannot be I that stand here gazing at these new-made graves, laid in the breast of ancient Carmel! Beneath me stretches an endless vista. 'Akká gleams white across the bay, that onetime prison city where these two were so long captives, near which they were once buried. The reaches of the sea and plain lie before me, opening out to where the moon silvers the rims of the mountains of the Holy Land, the Land of the Prophets, the Land of the loved ones of God, the Land chosen to be the Seat of the Ark of God in this most


glorious Day. Forever and increasingly about the resting place of this mother, sister, brother of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the life-giving activities of their Faith will gather. Close to them, focused on their shrines, great institutions will rise to strengthen the soul and body of mankind. And forever interwoven with those institutions will be the memory and example of these three holy persons. Their way has become our way and they lead us on before, heading the ranks of Bahá'u'lláh's followers.