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December 29, 1999
Remembering Kargil, Orissa, and Kandahar, Some Will Forego Millennium Galas
A P Kamath
Do not expect to see Devendra Peer and hundreds of his Jain compatriots at any of the new millennium bashes.
If you happen to live near his home in the Huntingdon Valley in Philadelphia, leave him in peace.
Do not invite him over to your place for any celebration.
For Peer will be fasting and meditating from sundown December 31 to sunrise January 2. He says over 350 Jains in nearby towns and cities will be fasting too. In Florida, Illinois and California, as in several other cities, Jains are bringing in the new millennium with fasts and meditation.
Peer, an accountant by profession and who runs a Jain temple near Philadelphia, says like Hindus, orthodox Christians, Jews and many others, he and fellow Jains do not consider the new millennium as theirs. For he follows another calendar.
But since it is a "momentous occasion" for millions of people, especially in America, his community will show solidarity with the mainstream population by ringing in the new millennium in a thoughtful, reflective way. Jains in Canada and the United Kingdom are also making similar gestures.
Besides, the Jaina tradition expects its adherents to keep everyone in mind in their prayers, he adds. The Federation of Jain Centers in North America, with which Peer has been involved for many years, is welcoming the new year with a Global Ahimsa Day. Jains will spread the word about nonviolence and vegetarianism.
Peer's sentiments are shared by Hindus and Buddhists across America. Many Hindu temples and ashrams are holding retreats and midnight prayers, chanting and meditation. And relief agencies that are raising money for survivors of the cyclone in Orissa say many people are foregoing the millennium galas and donating the money earmarked for the parties.
"The new millennium should be welcomed with reverence, with devotion, with a prayer that we will be better human beings and serve the divine purpose," says a New York businessman, who will be joining a congregation reciting sacred Hindu texts. "India, in particular, has seen too many devastation and tragedies. Along with prayers, we should think seriously how we can help materially people who have suffered most in the past year."
Such donations and prayers, he says, are better done without giving too much publicity. He insisted his name not be used in the article. "These are the times we should be invisible and our deeds should shine.
"When we pray, even though we use Hindu prayers, we keep everyone in our minds," he says, adding that immigrants should not loser sight of the reality -- that thousands of Americans are going through difficult times, too.
Several people connected with ashrams and temples suggested that instead of celebrating, people should offer prayers for world peace.
"And for Indians in particular, the news of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane, and the plight of over 150 people, creates a sad feeling," said a doctor who revealed that he had canceled a new year party he was giving to his friends and relatives.
"Instead, I will pray that there will be no more Kargils, and hijackings, or the kind of cyclones that have left millions homeless in Orissa."
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