20 Mar 2012
A DIPLOMATIC confrontation is looming over the building in India of a massive replica of Cambodia's Angkor Wat, the country's most popular tourist attraction and its national symbol.
The Cambodian government describes the building of an even higher replica to create the world's largest Hindu shrine on the banks of the Ganges River as a ''shameful act'' that could affect its future relations with India.
''There is only one Angkor Wat in the world … it is Cambodia's Angkor Wat temple, which was listed as one of the world heritage sites in 1992,'' Him Chhem, Cambodia's Minister of Culture and Fine Arts, told reporters in Phnom Penh.
Mahavir Mandir, an India-based religious organisation, has already held a ceremony to purify the land on which its own temple will be built in India's Bihar province.
Work is scheduled to begin next month and will be completed in 10 years.
Damian Evans, the director of Sydney University's archaeology project at Angkor Wat, said Cambodians were predictably outraged about the project ''as I am sure Indians would be if a nearby country decided to build a clone of the Taj Mahal''.
Dr Evans said building a replica showed a ''remarkable lack of cultural sensitivity by this group in India, considering how central Angkor Wat is to Khmer [Cambodian] national identity''.
''It is also an epic failure of imagination,'' he said. ''They really can't think of any more creative use for their $US20 million than to build a concrete replica of something somebody built 800 years ago?''
Angkor Wat was built by King Suryavarman II as his state temple and capital city in the 12th century. Originally the sprawling temple complex over 82 hectares was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu before being used for Buddhist worship after Cambodia's monarchy converted to Buddhism.
The main sandstone temple surrounded by a serene moat is depicted on Cambodia's national flag and is a source of great national pride.
India has many experts to call on to build the replica, which will stand 68 metres above the river near the Bihar state capital of Patna and be called Virat Angkor Wat Ram Mandir. Archaeologists from the Archaeological Survey of India carried out restoration work on the temple between 1986 and 1992.
Kishore Kunal, secretary of the Mahavir Mandir trust, said Angkor Wat was the ''most marvellous monument ever made by mankind and I just want to make the largest Hindu temple in the world''.
''My competition is not with Cambodian culture, it's with the Hindu religious structure,'' said Mr Kunal, a 61-year-old retired policeman.
Cambodian government spokesman Phay Siphan said building a full-scale replica of Angkor Wat was a ''shameful act'' and a deliberate attempt to undermine its ''universal value''.
Source - .smh.com.au