HOLI, India (AP) _ Four hours before this tiny village was decimated in the earthquake, its joyful residents sang and danced in the streets in a ceremony honoring the Hindu god of good luck.

At midnight, Ankush Gaekwad, a 30-year-old farmer, his wife and three children returned to their four-room home and fell asleep.

He woke with a start when the earth started trembling. Before he could react, the walls fell over him.

A few minutes later, Gaekwad heard his neighbor, Narayana, shouting for him. ''After I screamed back, he pulled me out and I was like a madman, pulling the stones to save my family.''

Everyone in Gaekwad's family survived except his 4-year-old son, Vishal. The boy's head was smashed and he died instantly.

But in this country of Hindu fatalism and belief in predetermination, Gaekwad isn't bitter, and he doesn't think he should be angry with Ganesh, the god of good luck.

''It was God's will. He gave us life. He will take it away,'' he said in an interview.

Holi and nine other nearby villages were flattened Thursday by an earthquake in southwestern India that brought down flimsy homes, mangling and crushing victims in their sleep.

In Killari village, the police wireless operator, Babu Ramchandra Madule, only survived because he was having a bad night.

On Thursday night, he was kept awake by wracking coughs from his neighbor's house. Madule left his house to complain just as the earth began to shake violently.

''In the darkness, I could make out that houses were collapsing all around me. I ran to the police station in the next street and sent a wireless SOS,'' Madule said Friday.

That communication provided the first report of the tragedy that left more than 20,000 people dead in 25 seconds.

Only 750 of the 3,500 residents of Holi survived.

''Either people died instantly or escaped with minor injuries,'' Shivajirao Baraokar, the state police chief, said in an interview after surveying the region.

On Friday, Gaekwad spent hours identifying the dead of his village as troops with handkerchiefs tied across their faces pulled corpses out of mounds of debris.

''That's Madhukar Kundlik Jadhav,'' he said as four young soldiers uncovered a body in a blue shirt.

Its yellowish skin was torn in several places. When soldiers pulled the corpse's hand, they unearthed the remains of another body - the nail-polished hand of Jadhav's wife.

When the soldiers could not pull the bodies out of the stones and rubble, the commander, Col. Promit Roy, ordered the corpses to be covered with logs and cremated on the spot. By the end of the day, makeshift funeral pyres burned all over the village.

Under a tall tree in the village square, soldiers lined up bodies. Relatives and friends who had come from other villages claimed them and carted them away in homemade stretchers.

Leaving Holi to cremate their relatives, those who survived reverentially bowed their heads before a Hindu temple that survived the quake undamaged.

None seemed angry with the god of good luck.