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Angkor's away! India plans larger than life copy of Cambodia's iconic temple

Cambodians protest as construction begins on copy that will be world's tallest Hindu temple
  • @AndrewBuncombe

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

Earlier 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 £13m project will not only be a major attraction in its own right, but will be the tallest Hindu temple anywhere 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. Having learned of the plan, 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 visit the Cambodian temple located close to the town of Siam Reap, which was off limits to visitors for many years because of the presence of the Khmer Rouge rebels. 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 already calling it, is about 25 miles outside of the Bihar state capital, Patna. Indian officials say it will stand 222ft high. While the Cambodian temple was built to worship the Hindu god Vishnu, the Indian replica will also invite worship of Shiva and other deities. Mr 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 cooperation, 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 40-acre site in Vaishali district, will take up to five years, while completing the entire project could take a decade.

Informed of the controversy the plan had sparked, Mr Kunal told The Independent they were not trying to make an exact copy but would have some changes in scale.