At the frigid and inhospitable heights of the Siachen Glacier, once known as the highest battlefield in the world at a height of 22,000 ft, Indian soldiers’ unwavering faith in a legendary soldier as their “guardian deity” gives them the strength to brave all odds.
As the legend goes, a soldier named Om Prakash was instrumental in single-handedly fending off an enemy attack at the Malaun post in the late 1980s, while the other soldiers had been temporarily called to the rear headquarters. Who the soldier Om Prakash was and what happened to him remain a mystery.
However, it is the firm belief of troops posted in Siachen that Om Prakash, fondly revered as OP Baba, protects them not only from the depredations of nature but also from the enemy by forewarning them by appearing in their dreams.
“We have faith in O.P. Baba that he will guard us against all odds whether it is the extreme weather or the enemy,” a soldier said reverentially.
The Indian Army has been defending the Siachen Glacier since the summer of 1984. Surviving the three-month stint at the glacier, named after Sia rose, is an arduous task due to the temperature plummeting to minus 65 degrees Celsius at times and low oxygen levels.
Guns have been silent at Siachen since 2003 after a truce between India and Pakistan. However, there are lots of other things that can harm or kill you, like ice-crevasses where the mercury registers minus 200 degrees celsius, extreme weight loss and even a rare case of snow-blindness.
The belief in the soldier saint is so strong that a formal report is given to O.P. Baba before the induction of a soldier party on the glacier and after the successful accomplishment of any mission.
While giving the report, the troop in-charge treats O.P. Baba as a senior officer and seeks his blessings. Following that, the soldiers shout “O.P. Baba ki jai”.
“The faith in the legend of O.P. Baba is so strong that all troops give up consumption of alcohol and tobacco during their stay on the glacier,” an army officer said.
With the spread of the soldier-saint’s legend, a shrine has come up at every post on the glacier.
The shrine of O.P. Baba at the Siachen Base Camp, just a few metres from the snout of the Siachen Glacier where it melts to become the Nubra river, has been upgraded to a multi-faith temple and prayers are offered to all the deities after formal reporting to O.P. Baba.
Legends are part of the postings at the Siachen Glacier. A silhouette on a mountain at the Siahcen Base Camp is seen as the “woman of Siachen” by the soldiers posted there and they believe that no woman can be posted there.
The other legend is that the ice-axe of Col. Narendra Kumar, who opened the Siachen Glacier on Indian side for trekking, was lost during an expedition to the glacier. And till the time the axe is recovered, the Indian Army is bound to defend the icy heights.
However, it is the legend of O.P. Baba that endures best and continues to help soldiers brave all odds while guarding the glacier.