Image: Spectators cheer during the XIX Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
Indranil Mukherjee  /  AFP - Getty Images
Spectators cheer during the XIX Commonwealth Games opening ceremony at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi on Sunday.
By
Associated Press Sports
updated 10/3/2010 11:54:41 AM ET 2010-10-03T15:54:41

From the ancient past to Bollywood beats, India showcased its culture at a spectacular Commonwealth Games opening pageant on Sunday that followed weeks of chaotic preparations which almost derailed the event.

Britain's Prince Charles declared the games open in the presence of Indian President Pratibha Patil at the extravagant ceremonies in a packed main stadium.

"India is ready. India's big moment is finally here," chief organizer Suresh Kalmadi said. "There have been delays and many challenges but we were able to ride over them all."

But in a sign of public anger at the problems, many among the 60,000 spectators at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium booed him when he rose to speak.

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India spent billions of dollars to showcase its capital, building a new airport, subways, highways and stadiums in the run up to what is seen as a coming out party to celebrate the country's new economic clout. The games bring together more than 6,000 athletes and officials from 71 countries and territories of the commonwealth every four years, but are being staged in Asia for only the second time.

Corruption scandals, health and security concerns, missed construction deadlines and filthy conditions at the athletes' village became an embarrassment for India in recent months. A dengue fever diagnosis for an Indian team official was also dominating headlines in the hours leading up to the ceremony.

Sunday night's celebration began with the throbbing of gigantic drums - or nagada - pounded by men wearing turbans. Before the drum beats were silenced, a massive white helium balloon, almost the size of the stadium's inner field, rose above the stands. The sides of the oblong balloon functioned as a 360-degree screen on which the show was projected.

The next two hours were a medley of rhythm and melody as artists from various parts of India, ranging from jungle tribespeople to ancient classical dancers, performed on the stage.

Bollywood superstar and Oscar winning composer A.R. Rahman, who provided the score for the movie Slumdog Millionaire, wrote the theme song of the games, "Jiyo, Utho, Bado, Jeeto" or "Live, Rise, March, Win."

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Officials hope the spectacular beginning of the games will help erase the ignominy the country has experienced over the past few weeks because of the last minute preparations.

At one point it appeared that many teams would pull out to force the games to be canceled.

But Indian officials insisted that just like an Indian wedding - when work is going on until the last day - the games will take place without a hitch.

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