IMMORTAL WARRIOR7 mins 154 7 mins 154
“Mumma, I am so excited about the holidays. Gangtok is a beautiful place, no? Let us also visit the Indo-China border”-My daughter Sreelakshmi hugged me. I was packing things for a trip.
“Yes dear, we will visit most of the places there”-I replied.
When I reached Gangtok along with my husband and daughter, my brother-in-law Mohan was waiting there with his wife. He is working there as a Government Officer. After a sumptuous dinner and family time spent together, we decided to go to bed early.
“There is a famous place of worship here built-in memory of a brave soldier. It is said that even after death, his soul protects and guides soldiers”-Mohan told us during breakfast in the morning.
“Then we must go there first, Mohan. Both of us, your brother and I are retired Army officers. Patriotism is there in our blood”-When I told this, my husband also added with a smile. “Yes. Didn’t I tell you that we were honored with the ‘Patriotic Couple Award’ recently by an organization in Mumbai? So we would definitely visit the shrine built in the name of a Patriot”.
“Yes Mom, even I want to join Army. After my post-graduation, I will join AMC as a specialist doctor”-Sreelakshmi was proud to say so.
We started our journey to Nathula Pass, a place near Indo-China Border. The drive was spectacular with views of blue mountains, flower-strewn valleys, and slopes. Gushing streams and picturesque mountain ranges added to the beauty of nature.
“See Mumma, those flags! How pretty!”
“Yes, dear. They are prayer flags. We will visit the Buddhist Monasteries also”-I replied.
Finally, we reached our destination, the shrine of the soldier saint called ‘Baba Harbhajan Singh Mandir’. It is about 9 km away from the soldier’s Samadhi (memorial) and 14500 feet above the ground. It is built and maintained by the Army and visited by soldiers and people all over the country. We were offered tea and biscuits by the soldiers there. Luckily we met a retired Army Officer, who was a relative of Harbhajan Singh. He was proud to share the story of the great Patriot.
Sepoy Harbhajan Singh joined the 23 Punjab Regiment of the Indian Army at the age of 20 in 1966. That time they were in Sikkim. Born to a Sikh family of Kuka in Kapurthala District of Punjab, he was a good person and a true devotee of Guru Nanak Ji. On 4 Oct 1968; he lost his life while on duty when he slipped and fell into a stream. He was escorting a mule column for sending supplies to a remote post. His body could not be found as it was carried by the powerful current for about 2km downstream. But Sepoy Pritam Singh, his friend in the regiment, had a dream in which Harbhajan told him about the place where his body is lying. Pritam did not take it seriously thinking that it may be his imagination due to the grief after his friend’s death. But he again saw the same dream. Later his fellow soldiers also had similar dreams. So the Army conducted a search for 3 days and was surprised to find Harbhajan’s body exactly at the same place as described by him in the dreams. The soldier’s body was cremated with military honors. But Harbhajan continued to appear in dreams of fellow soldiers expressing his desire to have a Samadhi (memorial) for him and he promised to protect them always from enemies. Army converted his bunker into a Samadhi(Old Baba Mandir). Later rumor spread that the ghost of Harbhajan walks daily along the borders. The ghost was said to wake up sleeping sentries with a slap and also inform them about suspicious movements of enemies. So they became more devoted to their duties. Villagers also claimed to have seen a ghost rider. Even the Chinese Army wrote a letter to the Indian army asking about seeing a figure in Indian Army uniform riding a white horse and patrolling along with their territory, as reported by their soldiers. When both villagers and soldiers witnessed similar incidents confirming the mysterious presence of the spirit whom they called ‘Baba’, Army built a shrine on his name for the devotees. The present shrine is also known as New Baba Mandir. It was built there because it was difficult for tourists to reach the original Samadhi due to high altitude and difficult terrain.
Sep Harbhajan Singh was promoted to the rank of Honorary Captain posthumously. Every year his ‘annual leave’ was granted, his train tickets booked, his belongings, portrait, and uniform were packed and sent to Kapurthala accompanied by soldiers and brought back the same way. Army soldiers on borders will be on high alert when Baba is on leave. His salary was also sent to his family every year. This routine was followed until his ‘retirement’ a few years back. There is a strong belief in the Army that Baba will warn about any accidents, disasters, or impending attacks from enemies at least three days in advance. We were glad to know about the shrine and thanked the officer for sharing the story with us.
When we visited the shrine maintained by Army, we noticed that it has 3 rooms- office, storeroom, and living room along with a café and souvenir shop. The soldiers on duty shared some more interesting facts about it. Every morning Harbhajan Singh’s uniform is ironed and prepared, shoes are polished, water bottle and other things laid out and the bed is made. The soldiers who are doing this by turn say that they have found the polished shoes muddy and bed sheet crumpled the next day. They believe it to be a proof that the soul of Harbhajan is still there every night taking rest on the bed after patrolling the area.
We saw a huge crowd of civilian people who have faith in Baba’s miracles. It is believed that water kept at the shrine become medicinal and cure diseases. So devotees leave water bottles there in the name of their ailing relatives, pray for their recovery, and carry the bottles back to them. A ‘Langer’ (communal meal) is held on Wednesdays for all. Devotees come from various places seeking Baba’s blessings. They write their messages of request to solve problems, grief, and depression or thank you notes after blessings and leave them in the shrine. Tourists, trekkers, local people, and soldiers passing that way stop and pay respect to Baba. Army units also seek blessings with plates lining the walls of the shrine dedicated to Baba. Even the Chinese used to leave a seat vacant for Baba at flag meetings of the two nations at Nathula Post, as a sign of respect.
Now it was time for us to return. In fact, it was a unique experience for all of us and we wanted to stay for some more time. We prayed in front of the statue of Baba once again and started to get down the steps. I was overwhelmed by the story of the Hero of Nathula who protects our nation even after death like a true soldier….the Saint who answers prayers and grants blessings to devotees…
“Wow, Mumma...What a great soldier! Is it true or just a superstition? I can’t believe it”-Sreelakshmi exclaimed.
“Well Sree, if you believe it or not, it is a true story of patriotism and faith. Both the soldiers and local people believe that Baba is there to protect them and that is a reassurance for them to live in peace. It is an unsolved mystery. But our soldiers say that their belief in Baba gives them strength and courage to stay and do their duty even under adverse circumstances, natural calamities, or hostile environments along the borders. You know it is definitely not a superstition, but a strong faith in Baba Harbhajan Singh, the patriot!” When I replied my eyes were tearful due to respect for the soldier.
While going back, I turned around to look at the shrine once again. I was astonished to feel the invisible presence of the great soul there! Feeling proud, I paid obeisance and salutes in my mind to the great soul…. The true soldier who is on duty beyond death…