A little under two years had passed since Bahá'u'lláh's confinement in the barracks, when suddenly a most tragic event occurred. It was the untimely death of Mirza Mihdi, entitled the Purest Branch, the younger brother of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, who was fatally wounded when he fell from the roof of the barracks.
In 1848, at a time when the followers of the Báb were engulfed by sufferings and persecutions, a son had been born in Tihran to Bahá'u'lláh and His illustrious wife Asiyih Khanum, entitled Navvab. He was four years younger than 'Abdu'l-Bahá and was given the name 'Mihdi', after a brother of Bahá'u'lláh who was dear to Him and had died a year before. Later the Pen of the Most High bestowed upon this son the title 'Ghusnu'llahu'l-Athar' (The Purest Branch).
Unlike 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Mirza Mihdi could not remember much of a life of luxury in Tihran, for when he was just over four years of age His father had been imprisoned in the Siyah-Chal, and all His possessions plundered and seized by the enemies of the Cause. During the four months that Bahá'u'lláh lay in that horrible dungeon, the Holy Family spent their days in anguish and fear, not knowing what would happen to Him. Often frightened and anxious, this child, tender in age and delicate by nature, found his only shelter and refuge within the arms of a loving and devoted mother. But Providence deprived him of this also. As the journey to Baghdad, undertaken in the severe cold of the winter, was laden with hardships and dangers unbearable for a child as delicate as Mirza Mihdi, he had to be left behind in Tihran in the care of relatives. For about seven years he tasted the agony and heartbreak of separation from his beloved parents.
It seems that at this early age, his soul was being prepared by the Almighty through pain and suffering to play a major part in the arena of sacrifice and to shed an imperishable lustre upon the Cause of his heavenly Father.
Mirza Mihdi was taken to Baghdad to join the Family in the year AH 1276 (circa AD 1860). It was in that city that this pure and holy youth, noted for his meekness, came in touch with the Divine Spirit and was magnetized by the energizing forces of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation. From that time on, he devoted every moment of his life to the service of his heavenly Father. He was Bahá'u'lláh's companion in Baghdad, Adrianople and 'Akká, and served Him as one of His an amanuensis towards the end of his life, leaving to posterity some Tablets in his handwriting. The last ten years of his life were filled with the hardship and suffering inflicted on Bahá'u'lláh and His companions in the course of the three successive banishments from Baghdad to 'Akká.
The Purest Branch resembled 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and throughout his short and eventful life he displayed the same spiritual qualities which distinguished his illustrious Brother. The believers loved and venerated him as they did 'Abdu'l-Bahá.
In 'Akká, the Purest Branch lived in the barracks near his Father. Often he attained the presence of Bahá'u'lláh late in the afternoon to act as His amanuensis. On 22 June 1870, early in the evening, Bahá'u'lláh informed His son that he was not needed that day to write and that instead he could go up on the roof for prayer and meditation as was his custom. It was a normal practice of the prisoners to go on the roof for fresh air in the evening of a hot summer day. The Purest Branch had often paced up and down that roof chanting prayers and meditating. But on that fateful evening as he chanted the verses of the Qasídiy-i-Varqá'íyyih, one of Bahá'u'lláh's most moving poems revealed in Kurdistan, he was carried away in a state of utter detachment and joy. As he paced along that familiar space wrapped in his customary meditations with his eyes closed, he fell through an open skylight on to an open crate lying on the floor below. He was badly wounded, and bled profusely. He was so terribly injured that they had to remove his clothes by tearing them from him. The following is a summary of an account given by Husayn-i-Ashchi, the cook in Bahá'u'lláh's household, and a devoted believer. In this he describes the tragic circumstances of the fall and death of the Purest Branch:
"It is not possible for anyone to visualize the measure of humility and self-effacement and the intensity of devotion and meekness which the Purest Branch evinced in his life. He was a few years younger than the Master, but slightly taller than him. He used to act as Bahá'u'lláh's amanuensis and was engaged in transcribing the Writings... When he had finished writing he was in the habit of going on to the roof of the barracks for prayers. There was a skylight, an opening in the middle of the roof near where the kitchen was situated. As he was pacing in a state of prayer, attracted to the Kingdom of Abha, with his head turned upwards, he fell through the skylight down on some hard objects. The terrific loud sound of the impact made us all run to the scene of the tragedy where we beheld in astonishment what had happened as decreed by God, and were so shocked as to beat upon our heads. Then the Ancient Beauty came out of his room and asked what he had done which caused his fall. The Purest Branch said that he knew the whereabouts of the skylight and in the past had been careful not to come near it, but this time it was his fate to forget about it.
"We carried his precious person to his room and called a doctor who was an Italian, but he could not help... In spite of much pain and agony, and being weak, he warmly greeted those who came to his bedside, showered an abundance of love and favours upon them and apologized to everyone, saying he was ashamed that while they were all sitting, he had to lie down in their presence..."
Members of the Holy Family and some of the companions gathered around him and all were so distressed and grief-stricken that 'Abdu'l-Bahá with tearful eyes entered the presence of Bahá'u'lláh, prostrated Himself at His feet and begged for healing. Bahá'u'lláh is reported to have said 'O my Greatest Branch, leave him in the hands of his God.' He then proceeded to the bedside of his injured son, dismissed everyone from His presence and stayed beside him for some time. Although no one knows what took place in that precious hour between the lover and the Beloved, we can be sure that this son of Bahá'u'lláh, whose devotion and love for the Cause of His Father knew no bounds, must have been exhilarated by the outpouring of bounties and love from his Lord. …we can appreciate how the Purest Branch must have felt when his Father went to his bedside. What expressions of devotion, love and thanksgiving must have passed through his lips on that occasion, we cannot imagine. All we know is that Bahá'u'lláh, having the power of life and death in His hands, asked His dying son whether he wished to live. He assured him that if this was his wish God would enable him to recover and grant him good health. But the Purest Branch begged Bahá'u'lláh to accept his life as a ransom for the opening of the gates of the prison to the face of the many believers who were longing to come and enter the presence of their Lord. Bahá'u'lláh accepted his sacrifice and he died on 23 June 1870, twenty-two hours after his fall.
The death of the Purest Branch within the confines of the prison created a bitter commotion among the companions who lamented the loss of one of the most illustrious among the family of Bahá'u'lláh. The following is a summary of Husayn-i-Ashchi's notes:
"When the Purest Branch passed away, Shaykh Mahmud begged the Master to allow him to have the honour of washing the body and not to let anyone from the city of 'Akká perform this service. The Master gave permission. A tent was pitched in the middle of the barracks. We placed his blessed body upon a table in the middle of the tent and Shaykh Mahmud together with Mirza Hasan-i-Mazindarani, a cousin of Bahá'u'lláh, began the task of washing the body. The loved ones of God were wailing and lamenting with tearful eyes and, like unto moths, were circling around that candle which the hands of God had lighted. I brought water in and was involved in washing the body. The Master was pacing up and down outside the tent. His face betrayed signs of deep sorrow...
"The body after being washed and shrouded was placed inside a new casket. At this moment the cry of weeping and mourning and sore lamentation rose up to the heavens. The casket was carried high on the shoulders of men out of the barracks with utmost serenity and majesty. It was laid to rest outside 'Akká in the graveyard of Nabi Salih... At the time of returning to the barracks an earth tremor shook the area and we all knew that it was the effect of the interment of that holy being."
Nabil-i-A'zam has said that two of the believers who were in Nazareth also felt the earth tremor. It lasted for about three minutes and people were frightened. Later when they heard the news of the death of the Purest Branch they realized that it coincided with the timing of his burial and then they knew the reason for it. Bahá'u'lláh, in one of His Tablets referring to the Purest Branch, confirms the cause of the earth tremor in these words:
“Blessed art thou and blessed he that turneth unto thee, and visiteth thy grave, and draweth nigh, through thee, unto God, the Lord of all that was and shall be... I testify that thou didst return in meekness unto thine abode. Great is thy blessedness and the blessedness of them that hold fast unto the hem of thy outspread robe... Thou art, verily, the trust of God and His treasure in this land. Erelong will God reveal through thee that which He hath desired. He, verily, is the Truth, the Knower of things unseen. When thou wast laid to rest in the earth, the earth itself trembled in its longing to meet thee. Thus hath it been decreed, and yet the people perceive not... Were We to recount the mysteries of thine ascension, they that are asleep would waken, and all beings would be set ablaze with the fire of the remembrance of My Name, the Mighty, the Loving.” (Baha’u’llah, quoted by Shoghi Effendi in a message dated December 21, 1939; ‘Messages to America’)
(Adapted from ‘The Revelation of Baha'u'llah vol. 3’, by Adib Taherzadeh)