Baba Harbhajan Singh

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View inside the shrine of Baba Harbhajan Singh
Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir - View Outside

Major "Baba" Harbhajan Singh (August 3, 1941 – September 11, 1967) (Punjabi: ਹਰਭਜਨ ਸਿੰਘ) was an Indian army soldier who died near the Nathula Pass in eastern Sikkim, India. He is revered by soldiers of the Indian army as the "Hero of Nathula" and the army men have also built a shrine in his honour. He has been accorded the status of saint by believers who refer to him as the Baba (saintly father). Many of the faithful people, chiefly Indian army personnel posted in and around the Nathula Pass and the Sino-Indian border between the state of Sikkim and Chinese occupied Tibet have come to believe his spirit protects every soldier in the inhospitable high altitude terrain of the Eastern Himalayas. As with most saints, the Baba is said to also grant favours presumably to those who revere and worship him.

Life and military career[edit]

Baba Harbhajan Singh born into a Sikh family on August 3, 1941 in the village of Batthe Bhaini in Punjab (India). He completed his preliminary schooling in a village school, and then did his matriculation from DAV High School in Patti in March 1955. In June 1956 he enrolled himself as a soldier in Amritsar and joined the Corps of Signals. On June 30, 1965 was granted a commission and posted to the 14 Rajput regiment. During the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war he served as an Adjutant of his unit. Later he was transferred to 18 Rajput. It was with this regiment that he met his end on September 11, 1967 in Sikkim. [1]

Death and associated legend[edit]

Harbhajan Singh's early demise at the young age of just 26 years is the subject of legends and religious veneration which has become popular folklore among Indian Army regulars (jawans), people back at his village and apparently also soldiers of the Red Army across the border guarding the Indo-Chinese border between Sikkim and Tibet. However, the official version of his death is victim of battle at 14500 feet of the Nathula Pass, Sikkim where there were fierce skirmishes between the Indian and Chinese Red Army during the 1965 Sino-Indian war. He was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra medal for his bravery and martyrdom on September 11, 1967.

According to legend, Harbhajan Singh drowned in a glacier while trying to lead a column of mules carrying supplies to a remote outpost. As the first casualty of the 23rd Punjab Regiment in that war, a manhunt was launched to find him. His remains were found after three days and he was cremated with full military honours. The legend further claims that it was Harbhajan Singh who himself helped the search party to find his body. Still later, through a dream, he instructed one of his colleagues to build and maintain a shrine in his memory.

Some Indian soldiers believe that in the event of a war between India and China, Baba would warn the Indian soldiers at least the three days in advance of any impending attack. During flag meetings between the two nations at Nathula, the Chinese set a chair aside to honour of Harbhajan Singh who has since been known to be saint. Every year on September 11, a jeep departs with his personal belongings to the nearest railway station, New Jalpaiguri, from where it is then sent by train to the village of Kuka, in Kapurthala district in Punjab. While empty berths on any train of the Indian Railways are invariably allocated to any passenger without a confirmed reservation (Reservation against cancellation, RAC, or wait listed) or first come first served basis by the coach attendants, a special reservation for the Baba is actually made for him and left empty for the entire journey to his home town every year with other soldiers travelling along so as to reach him till his home. A small sum of money is also contributed by soldiers posted in Nathula and sent to his mother each month.

Many other stories about him have spread among believers and also through social network posts. While all of these stories often contain elements of supernatural sightings and events, there is very little evidence besides anecdotal tales which cannot be reliably verified or traced to their source. He has been attributed the character traits of a disciplined warrior who was a "stickler for following rules" and is said to have fallen out with comrades in arms because of this reason. Given the deeply held beliefs and the warrior traditions of the culture of his ethnicity (Sikhs), it is highly probable such uncompromising disciplinarian character idealized by the believers may have been projected on to him as further evidence of his saintliness even though there is no confirmed or authentic evidence about it.

There also events like discovery of visits to the camps, use of bedclothes and boots that can be found in various social network posts about him. It has also been claimed that the regiment still keeps an empty bed and other items of daily use. Some source suggest that he continues to draw a major's salary every month till date.