Bahá'ís in Punjab
The Bahá'í Faith came to Punjab soon after its inception in Iran in 1844. While a large number of Bahá'ís (then known as Bábis after after the name of the forerunner, the Báb) were willingly sacrificing their lives to uphold the tenets of their faith in the land of its origin, a few of their fellow believers left their native land to spread the message in other countries.
Unhampered by the wave of persecution which claimed the lives of more than 20,000 Bábis, a continual stream of these early believers trickled into India. The purpose behind their pioneering efforts was to bring to the notice of their fellow men throughout the world that the appearance of the Universal Manifestation of God, as promised in all the great religions of the world, was eminent.
The declaration of Bahá'u'lláh in 1863 as the Manifestation of God, Lord of the Age, the 'Promised One', the return of the 'Father', the 'Kalki Avtar' and the 'Fifth Buddha', brought a fresh confirmation to their beliefs. Such was their zeal to spread the new faith that no one who came in contact with them was left untouched by their fiery enthusiasm.
Punjab was the recipient of the eminent Bahá'ís right from the very beginning. A glance at the 'Bahá'í history reveals that there were local believers in Punjab as early as in 1890s.
The first Persian Bahá'í to settle in Punjab was Dr. M. Zarghani, who opened his clinic in Lahore in the heart of the city the Anarkali Chowk. He was instrumental in bringing to the faith Prof Pritam Singh, one of the first Bahá'ís from Sikh background, in 1921.
The institution of priesthood bas been replaced in the Bahá'í faith by elected institutions, and the first local Bahá'í body known as the Local Spiritual Assembly, came into being in Lahore in 1930, Many other cities in the erstwhile Punjab were centres of Bahá'í activities like Karachi, Sind, etc. Eventually, the Bahá'í faith spread to Amritsar, Patiala, Jalandhar and Ludhiana. The local believers were almost always supported by Bahá'ís from other countries. Many prominent Bahá'í scholars and authors visited Punjab. Eminent among them being Ms Martha Root, Mr F. Schopflocher and Ms Luagetsinger.
With the formation of Chandigarh as the state headquarters, the centre of Bahá'í activities too shifted to the City Beautiful A Canadian pioneer, Mr Edmond Sanche, settled in Chandigarh in 1959 along with his Indian wife. The first local Spiritual assembly of the Bahá'ís of Chandigarh was formed in 1964 From 1960 through 1980 Chandigarh, Patiala and Ludhiana received a number of Bahá'ís from other countries who were instrumental in proclaiming the message of Bahá'u'lláh to a large number of people, dignitaries and laymen alike. They are well remembered by the local Bahá'ís for their services.
Bahá'ís uphold the unity of God, recognize the unity of His prophets, and proclaim the necessity and inevitability of the unification of mankind. They believe in an unfettered search for Truth and condemn all manner of prejudice and superstition. They are committed to the principles of equal rights, opportunities and privileges for men and women, compulsory universal education and elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth. In the Bahá'í holy writings, the institution of priesthood had been abolished and slavery asceticism, mendicancy and monasticism prohibited Monogamy is prescribed and divorce is discouraged.
The Bahá'í faith emphasizes the necessity of strict obedience to one's government and exalts any work performed in the spirit of service to the level of worship. It urges either the creation or selection of an auxiliary international languages and delineates the outline of those institutions that must establish and perpetuate the global peace of mankind which the Bahá'ís believe is not only possible, but inevitable.
Bahá'ís are apolitical and loyal to their respective governments. Wherever they reside they respect local customs and culture and strongly believe in unity in diversity. They are asked to lead a clean life. Smoking taking alcoholic drinks or drugs have been condemned. A vegetarian diet is recommended and great importance is given to prayers, meditation and fasting.
The purpose of religion according to the Bahá'í writings, is the promotion of amity and concord Bahá'í writings teach that if a religion is the cause of discord and disunity, it is better to be without it Bahá'ís proclaim the essential harmony of religion with science and recognize it as the foremost agency for the pacification and orderly progress of human society.
The State Bahá'í Council of Punjab is the highest administrative Bahá'í body in the state. Presently there are 39 Local Spiritual Assemblies in Punjab which are functioning under the guidance and supervision of the Bahá'í Council which, in turn receives its inspiration from the National spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of India.
There are various state level appointed committees such as State Women Committee, State Youth Committee, State Children Class Committee. State Correspondence Courses Committee. State Public Relation Committee, State Statistics Committee etc. which are helping the Bahá'ís council in adequately discharging its responsibilities.
Teaching Institute at Chandigarh which helps new Bahá'ís to gain more understanding of their faith. The activities of this institute are being supervised and directed by the State Bahá'í Council of Punjab.
In Punjab, the Bahá'ís have been organizing medical camps, children moral classes, adult literacy classes and tutorial schools. On several occasions, the Bahá'ís have been invited to give talks in education institutions. However, the Bahá'ís believe that the greatest service which they can render to humanity is bringing to its attention the divine remedy for all its ills-the message of Bahá'u'lláh. Bahá'u'lláh says:
The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceieveth the disease and prescribed, in his unerring wisdom, the remedy."
Today Punjab seems to be much more in need of this divine remedy than many other parts of the world. ◙