| The charred remains of the Navapalli pandal and (below) the Durga idol in the new pandal. Pictures by Ramakant Kushwaha
New Delhi, Oct. 19: The lingering smell of smoke provided the only hint this afternoon that something may have been amiss at the Puja pandal in Sector 40, C.R. Park.
Less than 12 hours after a fire had devoured everything in the pandal — in 10 minutes flat — the Navapalli Puja Samiti had risen from the ashes to keep the show going on the festival’s biggest day.
From a new Durga, hastily decorated by the idol-maker and transported from Shahadra in east Delhi, to a replacement sound system, the organisers had raced against the clock to recreate the pandal so the Ashtami crowd wouldn’t return disappointed.
“It’s a miracle that no one got hurt,” said Utpal Ghosh, samiti president. “Ma Durga took the brunt on herself.”
The fire had broken out in the early hours when the only people at the pandal were the security guards. It spread quickly and burnt down the idol, the sound equipment and finally, the whole pandal.
“I had left the place just 10 minutes when I received a call from the security guards. By the time I had dialled the fire department and had returned, in another 10 minutes, the flames were about two-storey high,” Ghosh said.
The fire department sent 14 fire tenders in a record 10 minutes. The police, who had been giving C.R. Park residents a tough time by threatening to curtail the late-night revelries, pitched in enthusiastically.
“The station house officer and the assistant commissioner helped out as if they were our volunteers,” a grateful Ghosh said. “We called up the idol-maker and he arrived with a new idol in five-and-a-half hours. No one would have believed this was possible.”
For Ghosh, it’s proof that Durga is merciful to her devotees. But Jaswinder, the samiti’s supplier of sound equipment, has learnt a more fundamental lesson: material possessions are ephemeral.
“I lost about Rs 25-30 lakh worth of equipment,” he said. “God had given it to me and now has taken it back.”
Undeterred by his loss, Jaswinder ensured that a new set of equipment arrived at the pandal in time for the rituals to start at 10.30am. “It’s all meant for God. How could I not have sent the equipment'”
In true Puja spirit, the neighbours lent a hand building a new pandal, which came up in a matter of hours.
The biggest miracle was that rival Puja organisers banded together to supply the bhog. The local MLA and the councillor arrived to help and by 10.30am, devotees were streaming in for a glimpse of the goddess.