Angkor Wat is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, a glimpse into what remains of the various capitals of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th century. The magnificent site is inextricably bound to Cambodia’s national identity and remains the country’s prime tourist attraction, with over three million visitors a year. Its reputation as a unique site has been challenged with the prospective construction of an Angkor Wat replica, to sit on the banks of the river Ganges in the state of Bihar, India.
This new temple will be known as Virat Angkor Wat Ram, and is to be situated on a 40-acre site in the Vaishali district in northern Bihar. Whereas the original Angkor Wat is a temple to the Hindu god Vishnu, it is envisioned that the Indian replica will house other Hindu deities, including Radha-Krishna, Shiv-parvati, Ganesh, Surya and ten incarnations of Vishnu.
The project will be partially funded by the Mahavir Mandir Trust, an organisation that has contributed three hospitals in Patna and restored 12 historical temples in Bihar, though this is undoubtedly its biggest project to date. The construction will cost an estimated £13 million to complete, an indication of its size and ambition.
The goal is to create ‘…the world’s largest Hindu temple… bigger in size, shape and height than the Angkor Wat of Cambodia,’ the trust’s secretary, Acharya Kishore Kunal has said and it is hoped that the monument will become ‘the pride of Hindu temples in the world’ and that it will be beneficial for Indian Hindus who cannot afford to travel to Cambodia.
The Cambodian government has responded by describing the act as ‘shameful’, with other detractors describing the move as unimaginative and even confrontational. There are also fears that this move may adversely affect the Cambodian tourism industry, for which Angkor Wat represents a significant source of income. However, it is highly arguable that the existence of the Angkor Wat replica will not detract visitors from the original in Cambodia as the historical and cultural significance of the original can in no way be replicated.
Although debate still surrounds this controversial topic, there are as yet no plans to halt progress of its construction, with the project set to be completed in roughly ten years’ time.