On the Wings of a Prayer – India’s Unique Airplane Temple Fuels Devotees’ Traveling Dreams

It’s not unusual at Indian temples for devotees to make huge offerings of money and food, in exchange for their prayers to answered. But the case of this particular Sikh temple in Punjab is quite strange, even for Indian standards. The narrow, dusty alleyway leading up to the Sant Baba Nihal Singh Gurudwara in Punjab’s Doaba region, near the city of Jalandhar, is lined with a host of shops selling toy aircrafts of various sizes and colors. Although they sell like hot cakes, they are not meant to be travel souvenirs, but offerings to the temple. At the Sant Baba Nihal Singh Gurudwara, devotees make toy plane offerings in the hopes that their dreams of traveling abroad and starting a new life will come true.

It’s hard to say how the trend started. But the offering of the toy plane is quite befitting, since the thing most people pray for at this temple is to settle down in another country. According to one local shopkeeper, “Surely it must have been someone’s wish to go abroad coming true that must have started it all. It’s now become a tradition. For us it’s business.” So the sight of scores of devotees flocking at the century-old gurudwara gates, holding colorful toy planes might be a strange one to you but quite normal to the locals. They line up patiently, waiting for their turn to access the inner sanctum on the first floor, where several decorative model planes are placed in neat rows. The devotees place their rainbow-colored offerings in the demarcated enclosure, paying their obeisance to the Gurus of the Sikh tradition and to Baba Nihal Singh, a simple farmer of the nearby Doaba region after whom the gurudwara was named. After the offering is made, they then proceed to ask for their wish to be granted – to be sent abroad as soon as possible.


Photo: Nothing to Do with Arbroath

The gurudwara is most famous among Punjabi youths, who are anxious to immigrate to places like the UK, United States, and Canada, and believe that a prayer can help them significantly speed up their visa and other procedures. Satwinder Singh, a 21-year-old college graduate from a nearby village, says, “I have just put in my application for a visa to go to the UK and am here to ensure my passage by making an offering of an aeroplane.” Surinder Kaur, another devotee, says, “My son was trying hard to go to Canada but was denied a visa. A friend suggested we offer the replica of an aeroplane at the gurdwara and it worked and he is now in Toronto.” So popular has this temple become that it is referred to as the “Hawai Jahaz Gurudwara” (Airplane temple). Several hundreds of airplane models are offered here and the temple often runs out of space to house them all. The shrine management has now come up with the solution of distributing the toys to children. “At least the children can play with them. We cannot stop people from offering them. In the end what matters is the faith with which you pray,”says head priest Bhai Manjit Singh.


Photo: Amrit Dhillon/Europics

Considering this high-tech service that the people of Punjab have access to, it isn’t surprising that every single family in the Doaba region has at least one member living in one of the highly coveted lands abroad. No wonder this temple is believed to possess a power even greater than that of  immigration officials.



Photo: Amrit Dhillon/Europics

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