T HE construction of a new Preah Sakyamoni Chedei (Buddha's stupa), to house what
is believed to be a bone of Buddha himself, has been canceled because of
apparent technical mistakes.
The temple was the brainchild of King
Norodom Sihanouk, who last year made a generous $900,000 donation toward its
estimated $3 million cost.
Construction of the stupa, sited next to Wat
Phnom, began in July 1992 and was supposed to be completed in 18 months. But it
has barely progressed beyond the foundations.
The work was postponed for
months because a miscalculation in the depth of the foundations, according to
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Works Ieng Kiet.
government had decided to abandon the stupa, but turn the Chedei into a museum
for Buddhist scriptures instead, he said last month.
The Chedei - which
had been planned to be 50m tall and 30m wide - needed foundations at least 25m
deep, he said.
But the architect who had designed the temple under the
State of Cambodia regime had allowed foundations only 8m deep.
government recently asked French consultants to study the construction to date,
and they said it was not possible to continue with such a foundation.
present foundation could bear only 20 or 30 tonnes of concrete but the Chedei -
if finished - would weigh 150 tones.
"It would be very dangerous if we
still insist on continuing building because it will collapse some day," Kiet
"If we want to continue building it, we have to spend much more
money - about $500,000 - to put in more foundations."
Kiet did not blame
anyone for the mistake. He said the construction plans were drawn up at a time
when there was a lack of good equipment.
He said the government would not
lose anything because they had the good idea of turning the site into a small
museum, where Prey Tray Bedah (Buddhist scriptures) could be housed.
government hoped to build another Chedei, possibly west of the Japanese
An architect at Phnom Penh Municipality, who would not be named,
told the Post there were three reasons why the Chedei at Wat Phnom had been
They were the foundation miscalculation; the fact that the
stupa would be so high it would affect the aesthetics of Phnom Penh; and that it
would diminish the reputation of the historic Wat Phnom.
"When the Chedei
is finished, children would say they went to visit the Chedei - they wouldn't
say they went to visit Wat Phnom."
But the architect also referred to the
possibly of fraud on the construction site, saying material and money was
probably stolen by people in charge of the project.
He believed the
person or people responsible should be punished and made to reimburse the
He estimated that more than a million dollars had been spent
on the building.
Government officials have previously said that more than
$370,000 in public donations had been collected for the building of the
Last October, King Norodom Sihanouk announced he would donate
$900,000 from the government's Royal budget to the project, because the public
could not continue to be asked to pay for it.
At the time, he requested
that a new committee, headed by Prime Ministers Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Hun
Sen and Acting Head of State Chea Sim, be set up to supervise
Currently, the bone of Buddha - it is said that when Buddha
died, pieces of his bones were later sent to Buddhist countries, including
Cambodia - is kept at a small stupa built during the Sihanouk regime.
is located in front of the city's railway station, crowded with people selling
goods around it in the daytime and homeless sleepers at night.
requested the government build a new Chedei to house the bone, and chose Wat
Phnom as the site.
In an October 5 statement which announced the Royal
donation, King Sihanouk said the country would not see peace, national unity and
territorial integrity if the building of the temple was left
Relics of the Buddha are housed in religious monuments in
most countries with sizable Buddhist populations.
They serve as focal
points for worship and destinations for pilgrims who practice the noble