Beijing, August 8 : The Beijing Olympic Games begun on Friday with a spectacular opening ceremony in the Bird's Nest, China's national stadium.
After years of planning by officials and training by athletes, the ceremony began just before the scheduled start time of 8.08 p.m.
World leaders including United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, U.S. President George Bush, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are among the top leaders and dignitaries from around the world who are attending the ceremony.
China's most successful film director Zhang Yimou has choreographed the show, which will be on the same epic scale as his blockbusters Hero and House of Flying Daggers.
A record 204 national teams will parade through the stadium- not in the traditional alphabetical order but in a sequence based on the number of strokes it takes to write their names in Chinese.
According to reports, the Games will officially begin when the Olympic torch, which was lit in Greece more than three months ago, lights the Olympic flame. That honour will fall to Li Ning, a former Chinese gymnast.
The torch has travelled more than 85,000 miles across 130 cities on its way to the Chinese capital, where the method of lighting the Olympic flame was being kept a closely guarded secret.
Chinese President Hu Jintao today told international dignitaries that the Beijing Olympics was an opportunity for both China and the world.
"The Beijing Olympic Games is an opportunity not only for China but also for the whole world," Hu said in his toast at a welcoming banquet for foreign leaders and other VIP guests, including International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge and Honorary President Juan Antonio Samaranch.
"We should carry forward the Olympic spirit of solidarity, friendship and peace, facilitate sincere exchanges among people from all countries, deepen mutual understanding, enhance friendship and rise above differences, and promote the building of a harmonious world featuring lasting peace and common prosperity," said Hu.
The timing of the Games has been chosen to coincide with the luckiest possible minute this millennium. In a nation where eight is a lucky number, 8.08pm on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year is as auspicious as is possible.
About 15,000 artists participated in the grand inaugural ceremony, which left spectators and dignitaries awestruck and mesmerized.
The 17-day Beijing Olympics will witness sportspersons from 205 nations competing for glory and medals. About 302 Gold medals are up for grabs at the event.
Distinguished personalities representing 80 countries have attended the ceremony.
The 56-member Indian Contingent will be represented by India's shooter and Olympic medalist Rajyavardhan Rathore.