BIHAR’S ANGKOR WAT
Cambodia protests against plans to build a near- replica in East Champaran
Plans to build a temple in Bihar on the lines of Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia have irked the Southeast Asian country. The temple plan, on 110 acres of land in East Champaran district at a cost of Rs 500 crore, was announced in March by the Mahavir Mandir Temple Trust headed by Kishore Kunal, a former Gujaratcadre IPS officer who has settled in his native Bihar after retirement. A section of Cambodians, including government and opposition leaders, see it as an attempt to hijack the Khmer people’s national symbol of pride and biggest tourist draw.
In March, the Cambodian government summoned the Indian ambassador in Phnom Penh and lodged a strong protest against what it sees as an attempt to “copy the Cambodian national icon which is also stamped on its national flag”. Cambodian Culture and Fine Arts Minister Him Chhem even went to the extent of saying that construction of a second Angkor Wat could affect India- Cambodia ties. The issue has assumed heightened importance with Cambodian national elections scheduled for 2013 and the Opposition Human Rights Party also opposing the proposed project.
A concerned Ministry of External Affairs wrote to the Bihar government on March 15, seeking details of the proposed temple. The Bihar government, in turn, asked Kunal to furnish the exact details. Kunal has sought to play down the controversy, saying there were important distinctions between the temple built in Cambodia by 12th century Khmer king Suryavarman II, a world heritage site which draws two million tourists every year, and the one planned in East Champaran. For one, Angkor Wat is dedicated to Lord Vishnu while its Bihar namesake will be dedicated to
“It is not an exact replica. Cambodia should be happy that we are drawing inspiration from a great monument.” KISHORE KUNAL, Head of the Mahavir Mandir Temple Trust, Bihar
Lord Ram and will house an idol of sage Valmiki as well. “It is not an exact replica. Along with Ram and Valmiki, idols of Sita, Luv and Kush will also be installed,” says Kunal. He says that his temple is loosely modelled on the main Angkor Wat temple and not its entire complex. “Cambodia should be happy that we are drawing inspiration from a great monument of that country which is also embedded in the common culture of the two nations and not from the dreaded ( Khmer Rouge leader) Pol Pot,” he adds.
The Bihar version of Angkor Wat will be built by Ahmedabad- based temple architect Piyush Sompura. Kunal wants it to be grander than the original, with a height of 217 ft, as opposed to Cambodian temple’s 210 ft. His trust, which has built hospitals worth Rs 300 crore through public donations, will fund Rs 10 crore annually and raise the rest through public campaigns. “We should be able to finish the project in eight to 10 years,” says Sompura. Cambodia willing, that is.
THE ANGKOR WATTEMPLE IN CAMBODIA