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Friday, March 09, 2012

India to Replicate Cambodia’s Angkor Wat

Tang Chhin Sothy/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Built during the reign of Hindu King Suryavarman II,
 Angkor Wat is one of Cambodia’s prime tourist destinations.
 Indians who haven’t yet seen Cambodia’s 12th-century Angkor Wat temple have reason to cheer: the World Heritage site is being recreated on the banks of holy River Ganges, in the eastern state of Bihar.

To be built by the privately-run Bihar Mahavir Mandir Trust, the temple will have five stories and stand 222-feet tall. It will be taller than Tamil Nadu’s Brihadeeswarar temple, making it the “tallest Hindu temple in the world,” the trust announced Monday. The estimated cost of the 10-year long project is about $20 million, or one billion rupees, the trust says.

So what inspired this initiative?

“I have always been fascinated by the beauty and grandeur of Angkor Wat,” Acharya Kishore Kunal, secretary of the trust, told India Real Time. “Recreating the masterpiece would be a tribute to India,” he added.

Built during the reign of Hindu King Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat is one of Cambodia’s prime tourist destinations.  Spread across a sprawling campus of 203-acres, the temple was chiefly dedicated to Lord Vishnu, one of the Hindu Gods, until the late 13th century. In the years ahead, the temple became dedicated to Lord Buddha.

Its Indian replica, “Virat Angkor Wat Ram Mandir,” will be built on a 40-acre campus on the Hajipur-Bidupur road, about 20 kilometers from Bihar’s state capital, Patna, the trust says.

The place where the temple will be built is, “no ordinary site,” Mr. Kunal says. Legend has it that Hindu deity, Ram, and his brother Lakshman set foot here, he adds. Lord Ram is chiefly worshiped by Hindus across the globe and believed to be an earthly incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

Mr. Kunal claims that the temple venture will “drastically boost” tourism in India, although the country’s tourism officials appear oblivious of the initiative.

“We have not heard or seen any news reports of the temple,” a spokeswoman for India’s Ministry of Tourism said. In Bihar, Priteshwar Prasad, the assistant director of tourism, said he had, “no knowledge” of the shrine. After India Real Time informed Mr. Prasad of the venture, he was quick to add that the project will, “definitely put Bihar on the global map.”

The Ministry of Tourism in Bihar may be pleased with the venture, but not everyone welcomes the move.

An official from the Cambodian embassy in New Delhi said the trust has not gotten permission to replicate Angkor Wat. “We are quite unhappy with this development,” she said, adding that the Cambodian government may request the Indian government to stall the project.

“We won’t let anyone confuse the world that there are two Angkor Wats,” Phay Siphan, a Cambodian government spokesman, told the New Zealand Herald.

Mr. Kunal, of the trust, said his group, “did not deem it appropriate” to communicate with the Cambodian government since the temple will, “not be an exact replica” of Angkor Wat. Three key differences will distinguish the Hindu temple from its Cambodian counterpart, he added.

First, the temple’s central tower will be 222-feet long, 12 feet higher than the one at Angkor Wat, he said.

Why 222-feet? According to ancient Hindu belief, the number 222 is auspicious and brings good fortune, he says.

The second distinguishing feature, Mr. Kunal says, is that the shrine will be built using concrete and granite, not the sandstone that was used to erect Angkor Wat. “We believe the material is far superior to sandstone,” he adds.

Third, the temple will house colossal marble idols of several Hindu deities, he says. These include Lord Ram and his consort Sita, Lord Krishna and companion Radha and Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Angkor Wat, on the other hand is chiefly dedicated to Lord Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.

“The Cambodian government should understand that we are not competing with Angkor Wat in any way,” he asserted.

The end objective, he says, is not to supersede the grandeur of the Cambodian shrine but to, “create a magnificent Hindu temple for our land.”

The trust plans to begin construction of the Hindu temple this May.

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