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Tourists walk though the Angkor Wat temple at sunset in Siem Reap province
Tourists walk though the Angkor Wat temple at sunset in Siem Reap province earlier this year. Vireak Mai

Angkor ‘copy’ raises ire

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has taken its concerns over a large-scale “copy” of Angkor Wat to be built in Bihar, India – first mooted to a firestorm of controversy in 2012 – directly to the Indian government, asking it to intervene and put a halt to the project.

In a letter sent Saturday to India’s Ministry of External Affairs, the government appealed to India to act in order to maintain “historical” diplomatic ties between the two countries.

“The Royal Government of Cambodia considers that this copy of Angkor Wat temple [built] for commercial benefit seriously violates [its] world heritage, which is a universal and exceptional value of humanity,” the letter states.

It continued: “[The Cambodian government] strongly requests that India’s Ministry of External Affairs … reconsiders the planned construction of the Angkor Wat replica in order to preserve the traditional historic relations between the two countries and our people.”

The letter added that the imagery associated with Angkor Wat has been a defining characteristic of Cambodia’s image for centuries, and is even the central design element of the country’s national flag.

The statement was issued after the Cambodian government received a report that the Mahavir Mandir Trust is moving forward with plans to construct the Viraat Ramayan Mandir, a massive Hindu temple complex with striking similarities to Angkor Wat, Cambodia’s most famous and valuable tourist attraction.

Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts Secretary of State Thai Norak Satya yesterday voiced his concern over the potential commercial effect the copy may have for Cambodia.

“I think that the replica temple doesn’t have as much value as our Angkor Wat temple – it’s a listed [UNESCO] World Heritage Site since 1992. It belongs to the people of the world, including India,” he said. “What’s concerning is the commercial effect. People who don’t have money [for travel] will go see the replica temple. But I think many people will still come to see the real temple.”

Speaking to the Post yesterday, Kishore Kunal, who heads the Mahavir Mandir Trust, assured that his company was not creating a replica of Angkor Wat, saying that Cambodia’s famous complex was simply a source of inspiration for the new temple.

“We are using only the architecture of the spire as inspiration,” he said. “Inspiration is also being taken from other temples across India.”

But Kunal added that he has consulted with Cambodian authorities to determine whether or not his temple, which will upon completion be the world’s largest religious monument, is in fact an exact reproduction of Angkor Wat.

“We have asked Cambodia to send architects to see the plans and decide if it’s a replica,” he said.

“They will realise that it’s an improved version of many temples, including Angkor Wat, the Hanuman temple in Mahabalipuram in Tamil Nadu, India, and others.”

Kunal added that there is technically no rule against replicating a World Heritage Site, saying that India’s neighbour Bangladesh hosts a replica of India’s iconic Taj Mahal to no one’s apparent dissatisfaction.

“Angkor Wat was a temple [devoted] to the Hindu god Vishnu,” he said. “But our temple will have many Hindu gods, such as Shiva, Ram – an avatar of Vishnu – Hanuman, Ganesh and Vishnu as well.”

Meanwhile, Anne Lemaistre, the head of UNESCO’s Cambodia office, was confident that the Indian replica would “never replace the original Angkor Wat’s authenticity”.

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