Believe it or not, military mythology is a thing. Maybe when it comes to serving your nation, the soldiers never actually die. This is the story of Baba Harbhajan Singh, an Indian Army soldier, who died in 1986 but his ghost is believed to still be protecting his brothers-in-arms at the border.
Born in a village of Punjab in 1941, Harbhajan Singh enrolled himself in the Indian Army in 1956. In 1965, he was granted a commission and was posted to serve with the14 Rajput Regiment. It was in the year 1967, near Nathu-La pass, that Singh met his end after slipping and drowning in a glacier while he was leading a column of mules carrying supplies to a lonesome outpost. His body was recovered after three days and cremated with due honors. But did he really die?
Legend has it that it was his own ghost that led the search party to his own dead body. Soon after cremation, it is believed, he appeared in one of his friends dream and asked him to erect a shrine in his memory. Following this, a shrine dedicated to Singh was built.
The belief about his paranormal existence is so firm that every year on 11th September, a train carrying ‘his’ belongings departs for his hometown accompanied by fellow soldiers, and goes right till his home’s doorstep. Moreover, until his recent retirement, Singh was steadily promoted up the ranks and retired as an Honorary Captain. His salary has, without fail, been sent to his family up until his retirement. Singh is looked up to as a holy saint today and soldiers often refer to him as ‘Baba’. Guess patriotism never really dies!
Harbhajan’s army jacket in his temple in Sikkim.
A regimental photograph taken at Meerut’s cantonmnent. Listed as “Bhajan Singh” in the photograph, Harbhajan is in the second standing row and third from the left.
Baba Harbhajan’s abrupt retirement, in the year he would have turned 60, came after the start of a civil court case challenging the army’s credence in supernatural beings in October 2005. Most servicemen and women, except at the highest ranks, retire at 58, suggesting Baba Harbhajan’s late retirement was initiated for expediency in the face of an embarrassing court case. Ex-serviceman Subedar Piara Singh sought a mandatory in-junction against the Defence Ministry’s “superstitions.” He cited the case of Harbhajan Singh but he could just as easily have picked on Rifleman Jaswant Singh Rawat, said to guard the Sino-Indian border in Arunachal Pradesh 50 years after his death, or Om Prakash, who apparently appears in the dreams of soldiers stationed on the Siachen Glacier in Jammu and Kashmir.
After at least four hearings the case was dismissed, the army having claimed that there was “absolutely no correspondence available … of the deceased with regards to his promotions” and that two soldiers, believed to be his escorts making the journey from Sikkim to Punjab by train, were themselves actually “on leave.”
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