Showcasing rich traditions and culture

A brilliantly conceptualised display of colour and gaiety marked the grand Opening Ceremony, which got the first-ever Afro Asian Games under way at the GMC Balayogi Stadium in Gachibowli on the outskirts of Hyderabad.

ABHIJIT SEN GUPTA

A brilliantly conceptualised display of colour and gaiety marked the grand Opening Ceremony, which got the first-ever Afro Asian Games under way at the GMC Balayogi Stadium in Gachibowli on the outskirts of Hyderabad. The ceremony had all the pomp and grandeur befitting the important occasion, which added a new chapter to the sports history of this city. The whole show was designed to encapsulate the huge variety of culture and traditions of the two continents and it managed to fulfil this demanding task fairly successfully.

The laser show was one of the highlights during the Opening Ceremony. -- Pic. P.V. SIVAKUMAR-

To coordinate the various dances, acrobatics and the display of martial arts by such a large number of participants was truly a mind-boggling feat and the organisers deserve praise for putting up the show in such a precise manner. There were no major hitches or glitches and the programme was gone through smoothly, adding to its grandeur. The most breathtaking and remarkable aspect of the show was the fusion of colour, music and lights, which lit up the entire stadium and sent the audience into raptures.

Spotted among the audience were some of the best known personalities of the Hindi and Telugu film industry such as Sanjay Dutt, Chiranjeevi and Balakrishna, while from the world of sports, tennis star Leander Paes and Mohd. Azharuddin were among the more prominent faces.

The dignitaries on the dais after the Games were declared open. — Pic. P. V. SIVAKUMAR-

To top it all, India's hopes of hosting the Commonwealth Games got a boost when Sheikh Al Fahad Ahmed Al Sabah, President of the Olympic Council of Asia, endorsed India's initiative. The visiting VIPs seemed to have been impressed by the organisational ability and commitment towards sports that they witnessed in India and the mood was upbeat during the opening ceremony. In his speech, N. Chandrababu Naidu, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, made it clear that his government was willing and ready to host more such sports extravaganzas, including the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics if given the chance.

The opening ceremony succeeded in showcasing the rich traditions and culture of the host State and the country, and also sent out a message to the world at large that the host was capable of conducting major events in a splendid manner. An unusual aspect of the march past was that the players trooped into the stadium in two groups — Africans and Asians, and not in a countrywise order. The informal manner made the march-past look more like a closing ceremony rather than the inaugural one. One felt that perhaps the move to club the participants into two continentwise groups, instead of the usual practice of each country's team marching separately under its own banner, was due to the fact that there was not enough representation from each country to make up sizeable contingents in the march past.

The opening of the centre-stage, which was shaped like a lotus flower, was quite spectacular and the rendition of the Atha Swagatam song by S. P. Balasubramaniam and Usha along with 200 children and 300 Kuchipudi dancers set the right spirit combining the mood of sobriety and gaiety in proper proportions.

Tennis star Leander Paes and actor Sanjay Dutt have a word with the Kalmadis before the start of the Opening Cermony. — Pic. P. V. SIVAKUMAR-

When it came to addressing the gathering, one felt the speakers should have restricted themselves to the bare minimum on an occasion like this. The audience became a little restive at this stage and so also the players, some of whom were seen leaving the arena in small groups and this could have been avoided. The Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu's suggestion to the visitors to try out the taste of Hyderabadi biryani and buy Hyderabad's world famous pearls met with enthusiastic and loud response from the audience.

The honour of lighting the torch was given to Karnam Malleswari, winner of the bronze medal in the Sydney Olympic Games. Triple Olympian hockey player Mukesh Kumar and Malleswari took the torch up to the final point and then Malleswari ascended the stage to set it alight. This was followed by a spectacular display of lights and fireworks, which lit up the surroundings for miles, well beyond the confines of the stadium.

The display of martial arts namely Kalaripayattu, Thangta and Kung Fu was breathtaking. The participants showed their expertise and the movements were superbly done with grace. Also a grand sight was the depiction of the battle of Kalinga by about 1000 participants. The acting out of Mahatma Gandhi's famous Dandi march and the speech on the giant screen by former South African President Nelson Mandela brought to life the philosophy of freedom and equality and the deeds of the freedom fighters of these two countries. Film stars Mahima Choudhary, Simran and Urmila Matondkar regaled the audience with their dances and finally Shankar Mahadevan and others brought the show to an end with the rendition of the theme song.