19th Commonwealth Games begin, marking the India moment (Roundup)

By Minu Jain, IANS
Sunday, October 3, 2010

NEW DELHI - With song and dance, colour and culture, a touch of tradition and a dazzling display of technology, the rich tapestry that is India unfurled before millions worldwide as the 19th Commonwealth Games were declared open here Sunday evening - celebrating the spirit of sport and the sportsperson.

The anticipation and anxiety of the months preceding the biggest sporting event India has hosted faded as the ceremony, deeply emotive for millions of Indians glued to television sets to witness their country’s moment of glory, proceeded for three hours to encapsulate 5,000 years of Indian history.

Amongst the 65,000 people packed into the main venue of the Games, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium named after India’s first prime minister, were Britain’s Prince Charles, Indian President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and ruling United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi.

Fireworks lit the cool night sky and the stirring strains of the national anthem “Jana Gana Mana” set the mood for what was to come as India greeted 6,700 athletes from 71 countries and Commonwealth territories to the 19th edition of the $6.8 billion Games - mostly limited to former British colonies and the second biggest multi-discipline extravaganza after the Olympics.

The 71 teams comprise 19 from Africa, six from the Americas, eight from Asia, 15 from the Caribbean, 10 from Europe and 13 from Oceania.

“Welcome to India, welcome to the Games, the people of India are delighted to host the Commonwealth Games in this historic city,” the prime minister told the teams and other guests to thunderous cheers.

“We will see human endeavour at its best,” President Patil said while Prince Charles, who read Queen Elizabeth’s message, was sure the Games would be “an experience of a lifetime”. Both declared the Games open.

Cheers resounding through the stadium it was a sound frequently heard this Sunday evening as the spectacle unfolded with electrifying energy through a meticulously segmented ceremony that rejoiced in the ‘Rhythms of India’, sang out ‘Swagatam’ (Welcome), showcased its ‘Tree of Knowledge’, displayed the ancient wellness regime ‘Yoga’, traced the ‘Great Indian Journey’ and recalled the joie de vivre of a village fair.

Puppets danced in the air to the beat of thousands of drummers, schoolchildren gathered in the centre and, led by well-known vocalist Hariharan, sang out “Su Swagatam” in welcome. The song reached a crescendo with a Sufiana qawwali, illustrating the charms of syncretic, secular India.

They formed a “namaste”, the age-old Indian greeting with hands folded, in the vast field. A collective roar echoed as the participants, in a rapid fluid movement, held aloft white sheets to splash red paint and show up intricate henna designs.

One lone star who shone was seven-year-old Keshava from Puducherry who performed a solo, drumming up beats on his tabla.

All along the ceremony, the moving lights on the helium balloon continued to change their hues, projecting life size revolving images of the action on the ground.

From the guru-shishya tradition to classical dances, and folk too, with the tenor changing from the serene to riotous joy and back again, the ceremony had the crowds enthralled. Whether it was the azaan, the muezzin’s call to prayer, Buddhist chants or the joyous strains of Bollywood number “Chaiya, Chaiya” with TV actor Hussain Kuwajerwala doing a jig on a train, this was a celebration of all that is India.

There was magic as the strains of Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite hymn “Vaishnav Janato” filled the air and the familiar outline of the bent head and the horn rimmed glasses lit up. Music maestro Allah Rakha Rahman sang out the anthem for the Games “Jiyo Utho Badho Jeeto” (Live, rise, grow, win) and moved on to his Oscar winning chant “Jai Ho”.

But even as the cultural colours of India unveiled, the underlying theme was sport and the sportsperson spirit - best illustrated in the athletes parade.

Lines blurred and overlapped as the 71 teams, led by Indian girls showing 71 ways of wearing a sari, filed past the appreciative crowd. If England doffed a hat to India by wearing a Nehru style sleeveless jacket over a white ensemble resembling a kurta pyjama, Indians reserved the loudest cheers for Pakistanis - underscoring the often complex relationship between the neighbours.

India’s world wrestling champion and Olympic bronze medallist Sushil Kumar handed the Queen’s Baton to Prince Charles, marking the end of the 190,000 km journey, the longest baton relay in Commonwealth history.

The other star, the country’s sole Olympic gold medallist, shooter Abhinav Bindra, took the athletes pledge.

As the ceremony ended in a blaze of colour and sparkle, paving the way for two weeks of sporting action in 11 spanking new venues, it was a time to savour for the many thousands who worked tirelessly to make it a success.

As Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury put it: “We have more important issues than Commonwealth Games but now it is a matter of national pride.”

New Zealand journalist Joseph Ramonos added emphatically: “I have covered the Commonwealth Games for 25 years, but there is no doubt this was the best opening ceremony ever.”

will not be displayed