Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Year 2000: Who's Coming to the Party?

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Year 2000: Who's Coming to the Party?

Article excerpt

From Osaka to San Francisco, from Beijing to Moscow and Pretoria, millennium fever seems to have gripped most-but not all-of the planet

At midnight on December 31, the world will enter the year 2000. For months, sometimes years, plans have been made to celebrate this special New Year's Eve, especially in the Christian world. But what, if anything, does the date mean to non-Christians?

"December 31 may herald a new year, a new century and a new millennium, but for me it'll just be a normal day," says an amused P. Balasubramanian, the chief accountant of a large firm in the Indian city of Madras.

For a large part of humanity, the arrival of the year 2000 will pass completely unnoticed. But because globalization means following trends or simply because there is money to be made, many people have yielded to the temptation to join the festivities.

Marketing the millennium

In India, advertising razzmatazz orchestrated by millennium marketeers has reached most of the population, thanks to satellite television. New Delhi is staging a "Millennium Night Celebration". Railway stationmasters will blow their whistles to send trains off on prestigious trips around the sub-continent. In most of India's major tourist centres, from Agra, Khajuraho and Jaipur, all the hotels are booked up. Yet for many Indians, mostly Hindus, there is really little to get worked up about.

According to the Vikram Samvat, the calendar of the Hindus and Sikhs of northern and western India, we are already in the year 2055, while the Shaka, the country's most widely used Hindu calendar, only clocks up 1920. As Indian Catholics mark the end of 1999, Buddhists will be enjoying the year 2542 and Muslims the year 1420 of the Hegira. A hundred years ago, according to another ancient Hindu calendar, the sixth millennium of the Kaliyuga era began, supposedly the world's last (see box).

When all's said and done, only the wealthiest and most westernized Indians really feel concerned by the millennium celebrations. "It's a legacy of colonial times and a product of marketing," says Bhupinder Singh, a practising Sikh who has retired from the higher civil service and become a businessman. But he admits he has gone along with it all. He is promoting Pakistan's most famous classical singer, Shafqat Ali Khan, in India with the slogan "The Star of the Millennium".

Another "star" is the island of Katchall, one of the Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal, which will be the first place in India to see the sunrise on New Year's Day 2000. The ministry of culture is cashing in on the event (as well as making up for India's lack of infrastructure) by inviting seven luxury ships from all over the world to anchor off the Nicobar Islands for the big moment.

Other ships are being encouraged to go to Tonga, in the middle of the Pacific near the international dateline. To attract them, Tongan King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV has decreed a switch to summer daylight saving time on October 3, thereby gaining 14 hours over Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and making the archipelago the first place on earth to enter the "third millennium". This kind of thing has been done in the past. When Pope Gregory XIII shortened the year 1582 by 10 days as part of his reform of the Julian calendar, it meant that St Teresa of Avila died during the night of the 4th to the... 15th of October.

Weddings and marathons

The U.S. Marine Observatory in Thailand has put forward the controversial theory that the sun will rise at 7 a.m. on January 1 above the frontier between Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand and that this will be "the best place in the world to see in the millennium." But while the Thais have a front seat for the big show, they may be giving it a miss. Like Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, Thailand is a country where Theravada Buddhism is practised; it celebrated its third millennium 543 years ago. What's more, Thailand marks the new year in mid-April, during Songkran, the water festival. …

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