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 (30 August 1946 – 4 October 1968)[1] was an Indian army soldier. He is revered as the "Hero of Nathula" by soldiers of the Indian army, who built a shrine in his honour. He was accorded the status of saint by believers who refer to him as the "Baba" (saintly father). Many of his faithful - 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 believed to grant favours to those who revere and worship him.

Life and military career[edit]

Baba Harbhajan Singh was born into a Sikh family on August 30th  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, Punjab in March 1955. In June 1956 he enlisted as a soldier in Amritsar and joined the Signal Corps. 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 served until his death on 4 October 1968 in Sikkim.[2]

Death and associated legend[edit]

He who died in 1968 near the Nathu La in eastern Sikkim, India. Harbhajan Singh's early death at the age of 22 is the subject of legend and religious veneration that has become popular folklore among Indian Army regulars (jawans), the people of his village and apparently soldiers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) across the border guarding the Indo-Chinese border between Sikkim and Tibet. [3]

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 many battles took place 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.

According to legend, Singh drowned in a glacier while leading a column of mules carrying supplies to a remote outpost. His remains were found after a three-day search. His body was subsequently cremated with full military honors. The legend further claims that the late Singh 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 an impending attack at least three days in advance. During flag meetings between the two nations at Nathu La, the Chinese set a chair aside to honor him.

Legacy[edit]

He has come to be known as "Saint Baba".[4] 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 waitlisted passenger or on a first-come-first-served basis by the coach attendants, a special reservation for the Baba is made. Every year a seat is left empty for the journey to his hometown and soldiers chaperone the Baba to his home. A small sum of money is contributed by soldiers posted in Nathula to be sent to his mother each month.[5][6]

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

References[edit]

External links[edit]