A huge wildfire engulfed Pandavas Paradise, ISKCON’s 1,000 acre retreat center in the grassy plateaus of Chapada dos Veadeiros, central Brazil on Sunday September 19th.
It’s the third time in as many months that fire has struck an ISKCON Community—24-hour kirtan leader Aindra Dasa passed away in a fire at the Gurukula Ashram in Vrindavana, India in July, while devotees narrowly escaped a fiery explosion caused by a gas leak in Leicester, England earlier this month.
Though a common occurence in late summer in the area, this particular fire was helped along by strong winds and by the fact that residents hadn’t seen a drop of rain for 120 days.
Pandavas Paradise president Giridhari Dasa was holding a weekend Bhagavad-gita Course in the capital Brasilia with his wife when he received news at 3pm that the wild fire had attacked the property from at least two directions.
Since the remote area had no local fire services, he immediately contacted the retreat itself. There were no devotees present at the time, but groundskeepers employed by ISKCON were, and together with a team of helpers from the local town that Giridhari managed to rustle up, they sprang into action.
“However, despite the best efforts of the team of thirteen volunteers fighting the fire, we lost our best guesthouse, recently renovated and redecorated, with three comfortable guest rooms and a storage area,” Giridhari says.
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Fortunately, there were no guests in the house at the time, and no one was hurt during the event. The Deities and the other buildings on the retreat were also spared.
“A spark of fire, carried by the wind, landed on the grass roof of our temple and the roof caught, but one of our volunteers bravely climbed up and managed to put out the fire,” Giridhari says. “Fortunately nobody was hurt and our Gaura-Nitai and Lakshmi-Nrsimha Deities are safe.”
As well as the temple building, a second four-room guesthouse remains, as does the ashram building and the living quarters used by Giridhari and his wife, the only devotees who live at the property full-time. But the landscape around it is blackened and bleak.
In fact, the entire region—not just the ISKCON retreat—was badly affected by the fire. Many people lost their homes and farm buildings, while even the National Park, the main tourist attraction, didn’t escape unscathed.
“It’s hard to know exactly how the fire was caused,” Giridhari says. “Sometimes it’s caused by a cigarette flipped out of a passing car, sometimes a farmer will do it on purpose to open grazing land for his cattle. But most of the time it’s just a natural occurrence, as a result of the extreme dryness and hot weather.”
Since insurance is not available in Brazil for the kind of building the destroyed guesthouse was—a wooden structure with a thatched roof in a rural area—the fire has left Pandavas Paradise with an all too real loss of some US $40,000.
“But we have wasted no time in lamentation, knowing well that everything Krishna does is for our benefit,” Giridhari says. “We have started a campaign to raise funds for reconstruction and have already received nearly a hundred emails from devotees and supporters all over the country. They have sent their prayers, words of consolation and donations.”
About 240 miles from Brasilia, Pandavas Paradise is a retreat centre, a nature reserve, and a temple all at once, set in tropical Cerrado, the world’s most biodiverse savanna. It is on a bed of quartz crystals, at an altitude of about 1300m, and it is still quite unspoilt by modern, industrial agriculture. First established in 1998, it opened its doors to the public in 2006.
Last year, 8 to 20 people attended each of its eight retreats, which combine a yoga and nature experience with Krishna consciousness. This year, Pandavas is on course to offer fourteen. It also offers a one week intensive bhakti training course for aspiring devotees who want to deepen their knowledge and practice of Krishna consciousness, as well as an annual Vaishnavi retreat for women.
To make a donation to help Pandavas Paradise rebuild, please contact Giridhari Dasa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To view photos of the retreat, please visit http://picasaweb.google.com/giridhari.hdg/ParaisoDosPandavas.