Siyah-Chal

My noble father was hurled into this black hole, loaded with heavy chains; five other the Bábís were chained to him night and day, and here he remained for four months. Picture to yourself the horror of these conditions. Any movement caused the chains to cut deeper and deeper not only into the flesh of one, but of all who were chained together; whilst sleep or rest of any kind was not possible. No food was provided, and it was with the utmost difficulty that my mother was able to arrange to get any food or drink taken into that ghastly prison. Meanwhile, the spirit which upheld the Bábís never quailed for a moment, even under these conditions. To be tortured to a death, which would be the Martyr’s Crown of Life, was their aim and great desire. They chanted prayers night and day. Every morning one or more of these brave and devoted friends would be taken out to be tortured and killed in various ways of horror.
(Hasan M. Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Centre of the Covenant, p. 40-41)


It was Mirza Yusif, who was able to help my mother about getting food taken to my father, and who brought us to the two little rooms near the prison, where we stayed in close hiding. He had to be very careful in thus defying the authorities, although the danger in this case was mitigated by the fact of his being under the protection of the Russian Consulate, as a Russian subject. Nobody at all, of all our friends and relations, dared to come to see my mother during these days of death, but the wife of Mirza Yusif, the aunt of my father.
(Hasan M. Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Centre of the Covenant, p. 40-41)


Síyáh-Chál, the name of the prison to which Bahá’u’lláh was taken on that calamitous day, means the “Black Pit”. Originally a reservoir of water for one of the public baths in Tihran, it was at that time an underground dungeon in which criminals of the worst type were confined.
To reach the prison, one was taken through a pitch-black passageway and then down three steep flights of stairs. The dungeon was wrapped in thick darkness. There were no windows or outlets, other than the passage through with one entered. Nearly one hundred and fifty prisoners – thieves, murderers and highwaymen – were crowded into this dark, icy-cold space. The floor was covered with dirt and filth and crawling with insects. Most of the prisoners did not have clothes or even a cover to lie on. The smell was foul beyond belief.
Under these cruel conditions Bahá’u’lláh and a number of Bábís were imprisoned by the King. Bahá’u’lláh’s feet were put in stocks, and a heavy chain weighing some 50 kilograms [110 lbs.] was placed around His neck. For the first three days and nights they were given nothing to eat or drink. The family of Bahá’u’lláh would prepare food for Him and ask the guards to bring it to Him. Although at first they refused, they gradually gave in to their pleas. But, even then, no one could be sure whether the food reached Him, or whether He would accept to eat it while His fellow-prisoners went hungry.
Bahá’u’lláh and His companions, also in stocks and chains, all huddled together in one cell. They had been placed in two rows, each facing the other. Bahá’u’lláh taught them to repeat certain verses which, every night, they chanted with great fervor. “God is sufficient unto me: He verily is the All-sufficing,” one row would chant, and the other would reply: “In Him let the trusting trust.” Into the early hours of the morning, the chorus of their happy voices could be heard. So strong was their melody that it reached the ears of the King, whose palace was not far from the Siyah-Chal. “What means this sound?” he was reported to have asked. “It is the anthem the Bábís are intoning in their prison,” was the reply. The King fell silent.
Every day, the jailors would enter the cell and would call out the name of one of the Bábís, ordering him to arise and follow them to the foot of the gallows. With eagerness, the owner of the name would respond to that call. His chains removed, he would jump to his feet and, in a state of uncontrollable delight, would approach Bahá’u’lláh and embrace Him. He would then embrace each of his fellow-prisoners and would go forth, with a heart filled with hope and joy, to meet the death that awaited him. Soon after the martyrdom of each of these heroic souls, the executioner, who had grown to admire Bahá’u’lláh, would come to Him and would inform Him of the circumstances of the death of the martyr and of the joy with which he had endured, to the very end, the pain inflicted upon him.
(Ruhi Book 4, p. 96-97)


One day I remember very well, though I was only six years old at the time. It seems that an attempt had been made on the life of the Shah by a half-crazy young Bábí. My father was away at his country house in the village of Niaviran, which was his property, the villagers of which were all and individually cared for by him. Suddenly and hurriedly a servant came rushing in great distress to my mother. “The master, the master, he is arrested--I have seen him! He has walked many miles! Oh, they have beaten him! They say he has suffered the torture of the bastinado! His feet are bleeding! He has no shoes on! His turban has gone! His clothes are torn! There are chains upon his neck!"
My poor mother’s face grew whiter and whiter. We children were terribly frightened and could only weep bitterly. Immediately everybody, all our relations, and friends, and servants fled from our house in terror, only one man-servant, Isfandiyar remained, and one woman. Our palace, and the smaller houses belonging to it were very soon stripped of everything; furniture, treasurers, all were stolen by the people.
Mirza Musa, my father’s brother, who was always very kind to us, helped my mother and her three children to escape into hiding. She succeeded in saving some few of the marriage treasurers, which were all of our vast possessions left to us. These things were sold; with the money my mother was able to pay the gaolers to take food to my father in the prison, and to meet other expenses incurred later on.
We were now in a little house, not far from the prison. Mirza Yahyah (Subh-i-Azal) had run away in terror to Mazindaran, where he remained in hiding.
Oh, the terrible anxiety my beloved mother suffered at that time! Surely greater than any woman, about to become a mother (as I afterwards knew), could possibly have strength to bear.
The prison into which my father had been cast was a terrible place, seven steps below the ground; it was ankle-deep in filth, infested with horrible vermin, and of an indescribable loathsomeness. Added to this, there was no glimmer of light in that noisome place. Within its walls forty the Bábís were crowded; murderers and highway robbers were also imprisoned there.
(Hasan M. Balyuzi, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Centre of the Covenant, p. 40-41)


While Bahá’u’lláh remained under chains in the Siyah-Chal, His enemies were busy trying to obtain His death sentence from the King. Bahá’u’lláh, however, was loved by people high and low alike and could not be executed so easily. Proof was needed that would connect Him with the attempt on the King’s life. But the more they tried to find proof, the more it became evident that He was entirely innocent. Unable to prove guilt, these ruthless enemies decided to poison His food. So strong was the poison, however, that its initial effects were quickly noticed and Bahá’u’lláh stopped eating the poisonous meal they had offered Him. In the end, the authorities had no other choice but to release Him from prison, but this they did only on the condition that he would leave the country and go into exile.
Bahá’u’lláh had endured four months in prison. He was now ill and exhausted. The inhumane conditions of the prison, the chain of some 50 kilos around His neck, and finally the poison, had left Him in such a weakened state that He was confined to His bed under watchful care. The links of the chain had made deep wounds in His neck and, although these healed with time, the scars remained until the end of His life.
(Ruhi Book 4, p. 106)