You have never lived until you have almost died. And for those who choose to fight, life has a special flavor. The protected will never know — R. Subramanium (Kirti Chakra)
What the ‘protected’ of India does know is that, the bravehearts who ensure their sound sleep at night need to sustain a rare equipoise of brains, heart and brawn. The echelons may vary, but an individual in the army has to brave far choppier waters and not let the ship sink. Does that scare them? Of course it does-yet rather than letting that shut them down, they tap into sources of strength, optimism and anything that lets them celebrate life even when it is hanging by a thread.
For some, the rays of hope emanate from the deeds of comrades, for some these rays are from the divine. There circulates in various pockets of the country, stories of Indian army soldiers building shrines and bowing their heads in reverence at these special places close to their hearts; so as to let these rays penetrate them-
Baba Harbhajan Singh
Another soldier immortalized by his comrades is Baba Harbhajan Singh, born in a village in Punjab in 1941. With inception into the Indian Army in 1956, he lived to serve his country for a decade. He met an unfortunate end in 1967; when he slipped and drowned in a glacier while leading a column of mules carrying supplies. His body was recovered only after 3 days of the accident. But, it was Harbhajan singh appearing in a comrade’s dream that led the search party to the spot.
On the wishes of Baba Harbhajan Singh, a shrine was built that attracted devotees with the firm belief that it held healing powers-water bottles in the name of sick people were left. Though dead, Baba Harbhajan Singh was treated as a living soul-flesh and bones. He was promoted up the ranks in the Indian army. A seat would be left vacant at all flag meetings and there remains today a profound belief that he is watching the soldiers and warning them of impeding dangers. The soldiers are sure that come what may, baba’s blessings will always shield them.
Shrine of Baba Jaswant Singh Rawat
He is the ‘immortal’ jawaan whose heroics during the Sino-Indian War of 1962 earned him a rightful place in public memory. Jaswant singh was the lone man standing at his post at an altitude of 10,000 feet along the border of Arunachal Pradesh. He tried his best to push back the advancing enemy and held the post for 3 days but was eventually gunned down.
Yet, many believe that the soul of this rifleman still walks the earth, showering blessings and strength. In honor of his memory, a shrine has been built which is guarded round the clock.
“For us he is immortal and continues to protect and bless us in this treacherous mountain terrain,” says a Garhwal Rifles soldier. The lores around the region reveal that he is still treated as a living soul- there’s a cook to prepare food for him, his bed is made, clothes ironed, etc. Extraordinary as it may sound, some would even claim that nothing remains the same-his bed would look like it had been slept on, his clothes would have creases and much more. The hold that this man has, even goes to the extent of him being promoted up the ranks posthumously!
OP Baba Shrine
This legendary Indian Army soldier is shrouded by mysteries. The lore goes to say that he played a key role in withstanding enemy attack at the Malaun post in the 1980s when many of his comrades had been called back to the headquarters. Today, he is the symbol of hope and strength for soldiers braving the hostile weather of the Siachen Glacier.
Revered as O.P Baba, a shrine has been built in his name near the Siachen Base Camp- a multi-faith temple that attracts crowds of devotees.
“We have faith in O.P. Baba that he will guard us against all odds whether it is the extreme weather or the enemy”
They claim that they’re cloaked by the protective warning whispers of O.P Baba in their dreams-that he’s forever proactive in warning them of impending dangers. The extent of reverence goes all the way to this ‘guardian deity’ receiving reports of accomplished missions, induction of new soldiers, etc. One can often hear in the Glacier cries of – “O.P. Baba ki Jai!”
Tanot Mata Temple
The temple is located in the village of Tanot, a few kilometers from Jaisalmer. It hogged the limelight during the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965 when it failed to crumble down to the earth even in the face of incessant bombing. Pakistan had pulled out all stops to capture the Tanot gas field. The Indian side could send only two companies of BSF and one of the Grenadiers to counter the enemy force. Yet, despite being subjected to heavy shelling, the temple stood its ground and helped shield the Indian soldiers. This added with their valiant fight won them a victory.
Another episode associated with the temple is the Battle of Longewala in 1971- the victory of which is owed to the deity at Tanot Mata Temple. Tanot Vijay Stambha (The victory pillar) has been built at the temple entrance in remembrance of the martyrdom of the soldiers who died here.
Plateau Nath Mandir
In the Kargil Valley, it is an old man with supernatural prowess that’s the source of awe and reverence. The story passed down here is that this old man inhabited a tiny hut in a plateau close to the Valley. The hut was in the direct line of fire between the warring factions of Indian army and Pakistani army during the battle of 1971.
Yet, his hut suffered not a scar and every lethal attack was easily deflected. As the other locals watched on curiously, this man goes on to pick up the ‘bomb litter’ and dump them in the water. It was only then that the bombs exploded. The episode was enough to garner enough followers who hung on his every word. His preaches of vegetarianism, the glory of Lord Shiva are repeated to this day. It is said that he mysteriously disappeared one day and long after he was gone, in 1996, a temple was built at the site of his hut. Curiously, in the Kargil War of 1999, history repeated itself as the temple found itself immune to the squall of firepower!
In all probability, many of these stories could be just myths. But, more importantly these are tales that display the tenacious will of the Indian army to dispel darkness even if it threatens to consume them.