The 11th South Asian Games, the biggest sporting extravaganza of the region, got underway at the Bangabandhu National Stadium yesterday with a spectacular opening ceremony marked by great fanfare and enthusiasm. A spectacular cultural show, a scintillating aquatic display caught the audience gripped while the dazzling pyrotechniques lit up the night sky of Dhaka bringing the perfect ending to a three-and-a-half hour spectacle.
The opening ceremony started with the march past by the athletes from the participating eight countries. Afghanistan led the march while hosts Bangladesh finished it amid huge cheers from the crowd. Famed shooter Asif Hossain Khan carried the red and green flag to lead the 453-strong Bangladesh contingent.
Noted singers Sabina Yasmin, Andrew Kishore and Shuvro Dev performed the welcome song of the Games while being driven on a caravan round the track.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith, also the chairman of the organising committee of 11th SA Games, urged the athletes to uphold the spirit of modern Olympic movement "Faster, Higher, Stronger" in his welcome speech.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina officially declared the Games open setting free pigeons. Thousands of colourful balloons and pigeons turned the afternoon sky into a sight to behold.
The torch of the Games which started its journey from the Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka a week ago was nested by legendary footballer Kazi Salauddin. The torch entered the stadium in the hands of sports organiser Lutfunnesa Haque Bakul. It was then relayed through the length of the stadium by noted sports personalities of the country including cricketer Roquibul Hassan, shooter Atiqur Rahman, swimmer Bazlur Rahman, boxer Mosharraf Hossain. Lastly, Salauddin was elevated to the torch stand where he kindled the torch of the Games.
Then oath of the Games was conducted by Bangladesh football team's captain Aminul Haque and the fastest woman of the country Nazmun Nahar Beauty.
Games mascot, Kutumb, took a trip round the athletics track accompanied by its predecessors Duranto and Mishuk.
The athletes, having taken their seats in the gallery, the cultural show began. Students from different schools danced to songs while display at the gallery changed its colours to the tune of the songs. Songs ranged from folk to patriotic theme as display depicted rural Bengal in quieter times, martyred intellectuals, seven Birshreshthas and above all the father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Indigenous Santals enacted a dance drama titled "Nacholer Rani" depicting the bravery of legendary activist Ila Mitra and her followers in their movement against the British colonialism.
Members of defence forces too entertained the crowd with colourful and disciplined displays.
But all these were a mere precursor to the entertainment that ensued.
As the evening set in the lights went off, sound of thunder and hailstorm created the atmosphere of great calamity. The incidents before and during the War of Liberation were portrayed masterfully through a simultaneous projection of light, sound and laser. The aquatic displays at the western gallery were complemented by the background music and laser show. The spitting flames and the fountains created played ideal background to tireless performers on water. As the music and the dance crept building up to the ultimate crescendo, the fireworks went on and on leaving everyone present bemused. Even the bright full moon must have been awestruck by the spectacle that was being staged below.