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 30, 1946 – October 4, 1968) (Punjabi: ਹਰਭਜਨ ਸਿੰਘ) was an Indian army soldier who died in 1968 near the Nathu La 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 was born into a Sikh family on 30 August 1946 in the village of Sadrana in district Gujjarawala Punjab (Pakistan). He completed his preliminary education at a village school, and then matriculated from DAV High School in Patti in March 1955. In June 1956 he enrolled as a soldier in Amritsar and joined the Corps of Signals. On 30 June 1965 he was granted a commission and posted to the 14 Rajput Regiment. During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 he served as an Adjutant of his unit and was later transferred to the 18 Rajput. It was with this regiment that he met his end on 11 September 1967 in Sikkim. [1]

Death and associated legend[edit]

Harbhajan Singh's early death at the age of just 27 is the subject of legend and religious veneration, which has become popular folklore among Indian Army regulars (jawans), the people of his village and apparently also soldiers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) across the border guarding the Indo-Chinese border between Sikkim and Tibet. The official version of his death is that he was a victim of battle at the 14,500 feet (4,400 m) Nathu La, a mountain pass between Tibet and Sikkim where there were many fierce skirmishes between the Indian Army and the PLA during the 1965 Sino-Indian war. He was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra medal for his bravery and martyrdom on 26 January 1969.

Plaque at Baba Harbhajan Singh's shrine.

However, 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 himself who helped the search party 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 of any impending attack at least the three days in advance. During flag meetings between the two nations at Nathu La, the Chinese set a chair aside to honour of Harbhajan Singh who has since come to be known as "Saint Baba". Every year on 11 September, 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 the Kapurthala district of the Indian state of 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 on a first come first served basis by the coach attendants, a special reservation for the Baba is actually made for him and his berth left empty for the entire journey to his home town every year with other soldiers accompanying "him" so as to reach him till his home. A small sum of money is also contributed by soldiers posted in Nathula to be sent to his mother each month.[2][3]

There are also stories of soldiers discovering that he visited the camps at night, used the bedclothes and boots in his room and on 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 sources suggest that he continues to draw a major's salary every month till date.

Devabhoomiyiloode, the 2012 Malayalam travelogue written by M. K. Ramachandran, features his journey to Baba shrine in 2010.

References[edit]