The 36th National Games was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a glittering opening ceremony here on Thursday evening in the presence of over 100,000 ecstatic spectators.
In keeping with the Olympic convention, but with a modern twist, Gujarat's swimming star Maana Patel brought in the symbolic Torch of Unity into the arena and handed it over to the Prime Minister.
Watched and applauded by several current and past sports icons, including Olympic champion Neeraj Chopra, Olympic medallists PV Sindhu, Ravi Dahiya, Mirabai Chanu, Gagan Narang, former national hockey captain and new HI chief Dilip Tirkey along with World Championship medallist Anju Bobby George, the Prime Minister placed the Torch on the podium for it to be lit by augmented reality.
When the PM rose to speak, a roar as loud as thousand lions echoed in the stadium, underlining his continued popularity in the state.
"This sight, this ambience can’t be described in words. In the world's biggest stadium, one of the world's youngest countries is witnessing India's biggest sports festival," he said.
"The sports budget of the country has increased by about 70 percent in the last 8 years, Until 8 years ago, Indian athletes participated in less than 100 international events. Now Indian players participate in more than 300 international events," the PM added.
Praising the theme behind the Games anthem, 'Judega India, Jitega India', the Prime Minister said that the National Games would act as a launch pad for every youngster.
Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel also welcomed the over 7,000-plus athletes from "every corner of the country" on behalf of every Gujarati in the state and the world.
In keeping with a time-honoured Olympic custom, 'Ek Bharat', a ceremonial march past, by the athletes of 36 States and Union Territories plus Services ensued.
The biggest applause was reserved for the 700-strong Gujarat contingent, which was led by tennis star Ankita Raina, who also took the oath on behalf of all the athletes.
The National Games, being held after seven years, will witness India's best athletes compete in 36 disciplines in six cities of Gujarat.
Although they started on September 20 to accommodate World Championship-bound table tennis players, they will gather steam on Friday with nine disciplines getting underway and several top athletes entering the fray.
Earlier, the PM virtually inaugurated the Swarnim Gujarat Sports Unity through Augmented Reality, setting the stage for a mind-blowing show.
A special performance showcasing several of Gujarat’s traditional art forms at the start set the mood for the evening. A tribute called '20 Years of Vision, Governance and Leadership – Vande Gujarat!' in the form of a Cultural performance by 600 local artistes and singers was one of the highlights of the evening.