Fine portrayal of a rich cultural heritage

A. VINOD

AS South Korea rolled out the red carpet to the participating teams of the 14th Asian Games, it made a great opening to the 16-day event. The September 29 ceremony, which marked the opening of the largest Asian Games in history, was quite an impressive affair laced as it were by an entertaining and thought-provoking cultural show that gave not only a good insight into the organisational abilities of the South Koreans, but also a fine portrayal of the rich cultural heritage of the host country.

Hockey star Dhanraj Pillay, the flag-bearer, leads the Indian contingent during the marchpast.-V. SUDERSHAN

In fact, the whole presentation had its basis on an age-old legend and take for take the six-part extravanganza had many surprises as the programme unfolded before the spectators at an almost fully packed Busan Asian Games main stadium.

Also featuring prominently in the show were elements of Asia's lofty visions of overall prosperity, peace and harmony in the continent. For this a start was made by the contingents of both North and South Korea. They entered the stadium jointly as a single team, their banner being a white pennant in which was embossed the blue emblem of the Korean peninsula. This provided much joy to the crowd, who stood up as one man, to applaud and approve the first step towards the possible unification of the two countries, separated due to political ideologies and war over the past half-a-century.

The joint South and North Korean teams exhibited a lot of camaraderie.-V. SUDERSHAN

The protocol part of the ceremony was quite brief what with most of the time being consumed by the march past of the visiting delegations. It was Nepal (in accordance with an entry system based on the Korean alphabet) which was the first in line. The joint Korean delegation brought up the rear marching in tune to a popular folk song, "Arirang." The Indian delegation, with the men dressed in cream trousers, a blue blazer and orange headgear and the women in cream sarees and blue blazers, was led by hockey ace Dhanraj Pillay, for whom it undoubtedly would have been a proud moment.

The Korean teams were led by two flag-bearers: handball player Hwangbo Sung-Il from the South and woman football goalkeeper Ri Chong-Hui from the North.-V. SUDERSHAN

Perhaps, what also stood out was the participation of the crowd in lifting the evening's show to such heights, using the wooden ladle and spoon, provided at each seat in the stadium. It was almost deafening at times but the spirit of camaraderie and friendship was never in question as the crowd greeted the entry of each team. As usual, the speeches were quite brief. Chung Soon-Taek, president of the BAGOC, welcomed all the visitors to Busan with the wish that the participants would share the dreams of his committee and encourage each other and look upon victory and defeat in the competitions on the field with equanimity.

Invited by the OCA president, Sheik Ahmed Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, the South Korean President, Kim Dae-Jung then formally declared the 14th Asian Games open, to the accompaniment of trumpets. It was unquestionably the moment which crystallised the hopes and aspirations of the local populace who had strived hard through the last seven years, ever since Busan was accorded the honour to host the Games by the OCA.

Two judo exponents - Kye Sun-Hui (North Korean gold medal winner at the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta) and Ha Hyung Joo (winner of a gold for South Korea in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics) were given the rare honour of lighting the Games flame.-V. SUDERSHAN

The only break in tradition was of course the carrying of the Korean flag, at the march past, by two bearers - handball player Hwangbo Sung-Il from the South and woman football goalkeeper Ri Chong-Hui from the North - instead of the usual one. In fact, only a couple of days before the ceremony was the OCA president sounded about this possibility and though he had promised to uphold the tradition then, it did seem that the gentle persuasion from the Koreans had given way to a practical compromise.

But this was indeed forgotten with the arrival of the sacred torch, which was brought into the stadium by the 2002 World Cup football star and South Korean team captain Hong Myung-Bo. And then, two judo exponents - Ha Hyung Joo (winner of a gold for South Korea in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics) and Kye Sun-Hui (North Korean gold medal winner at the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta) took centre-stage, being given the rare honour of lighting the Games flame.

South Korean Pesident Kim Dae-Jung arrives with his wife to declare the Games Open.-AP

The torch itself was yet another illustration of a warming inter-Korean relationship. Ignited simultaneously at Mount Halla in the South and Mount Baekdu in the North on September 5, the two flames were later combined into one and then passed around the South for 23 days, touring 904 districts in 16 cities through the hands of 7,457 bearers. The lighting of the torch, in a specially erected cauldron in the middle of the field, also marked the end of the protocol part of the ceremony.

The post-ceremony show was billed as a "beautiful evening." And true to the projected theme, the show itself was a dazzling mix of tradition, theatrics and sports elements as the participants revealed the legend regarding King Kim Su-Ro and his Indian Queen Princess Huh and revived the story behind the founding of the erstwhile Busan kingdom (known in old times as Gaya). The highlight, of course, was the love story of the King and the Queen and their first "beautiful" meeting in the middle of a bridge.

Spectators from North Korea were provided a special enclosure.-V. SUDERSHAN

And as the show evolved into a mass celebration of the historic meeting in a whirlwind of beauty and power, the stage also saw 3,500 performers dance to the rhythm of a Korean folk song and a tremendous display of Taekwondo performed by a set of over 1,000 personnel drawn from the Busan Metropolitan Police Force. The show, as it went ahead, also dramatised the flourishing civilization of the erstwhile Gaya kingdom before it culminated with the entry of children bearing torches that had been lit in the other 43 participating nations earlier to a stirring chorus of the Busan Asian Games theme song, "New Vision, New Asia."

Intended to showcase to the 3.7 billion population of the continent, that the history of Asia by itself is the product of the inter-mingling of its own people and cultures, as indicated by the legend behind the Gaya kingdom, the ceremony in that sense was educative as much as it turned to be an emotional exercise. The fireworks display that lit up the Busan sky later was another grand spectacle on what turned out to be a great evening.