Angkor Wat? Cambodia fears replica will hit tourism sector

By Andrew Buncombe

Cambodia's 12th-century Angkor Wat temple near Siam Reap. Photo / Jim Eagles
Cambodia's 12th-century Angkor Wat temple near Siam Reap. Photo / Jim Eagles

It is often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Not so, perhaps, when it comes to ancient Hindu temples.

This week, officials in eastern India announced their plan to build a replica of Cambodia's spellbinding 12th-century temple, Angkor Wat, on the banks of the Ganges in the state of Bihar.

A religious group, the Mahavir Mandir Trust, said that when it is completed, the £13 million (NZ$25m) project will not only be a major attraction in its own right, but will be the tallest Hindu temple in the world.

As he laid the foundation stone, Kishore Kunal, the trust's secretary, told local media the temple's name will be Virat Angkor Wat Ram Mandir.

"The site is blessed as Ram, Lakshman and Vishwamitra were welcomed here on their arrival by King Sumati of the Vaishali kingdom," he added, referring to Hindu deities.

But while people in Bihar may be excited about the project, not everyone is happy.

Officials in Cambodia yesterday said they believed the move was a shameful act that would undermine the value of the country's best-known tourist attraction which has been a World Heritage Site since 1992.

Three million foreign tourists a year visit the Cambodian temple near the town of Siam Reap.

Such is the importance of the site to the largely Buddhist nation, both culturally and in terms of the revenue it generates, that it features on the national flag.

"Angkor Wat is Angkor Wat - it is unique," Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said.

"They are raising this to be confrontational and it is provocative of the World Heritage principle. We won't let anyone confuse the world that there are two Angkor Wats."

The location of the Indian temple, or Angkor Nagar as some are calling it, is about 40km outside Patna.

Indian officials say it will stand 67m high. While the Cambodian temple was built to worship the Hindu god Vishnu, the replica will also invite worship of Shiva and other deities.

Siphan said officials in Phnom Penh would raise its concerns with the Indian Government to try to resolve the matter.

"[The two nations] have good relations and good co-operation, so we are looking for that to solve this issue," he said.

"The tourists who come to visit Angkor Wat are not seeing it simply as a stone building. They come here to see the culture and to learn."

The Indian Angkor will have five storeys and five "shikhars" or pinnacles, like the Cambodian original.

It is estimated that work on the main structure, which will sit on a 16ha site in Vaishali district, will take up to five years, while completing the project could take a decade.

- INDEPENDE

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