How smallpox once pockmarked Bengal’s puja calendar  

Basanti Puja Coronavirus
As Basanti Puja passed off quietly in the state, it left many in Bengal, like everywhere else, in a state of daze and disbelief.

Few seasons can rival the brilliance of spring in Bengal. Yet in the minds of many old-timers, basanta (Bengali for spring) has always been a mix of sweet blooms and sad memories. Reminders of a past they have been carrying in their hearts in the form of stories handed down from generation to generation about human misery wrought by bouts of a contagious disease — the deadly smallpox.

History seems to be repeating, with almost all puja organisers giving the “original” Durga Puja, held every year in the Bengali month of Chaitra (March-April), a miss to enforce social distancing in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

This ritual worshipping of goddess Durga during this time of the year is more popular as Basanti Puja. According to Hindu mythology, Basanti Puja is the actual puja of Durga. But centuries before the novel coronavirus put the goddess under quarantine, the vernal ritual was overshadowed by the “unseasonal” celebration of Durga Puja in autumn as devotees of the goddess found that the spring was not a favourable time for merrymaking.

Puja in times of social distancing 

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