Work on the construction of the world’s biggest Hindu temple was supposed to begin this month in East Champaran of Bihar, but has been stalled after the government of Cambodia prevailed upon the Indian government to block the construction of the temple, as it is supposed to be modelled on the Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia.
The Virat Ramayan Mandir planned in Bahuara-Kathwalia, East Champaran district, about 150 km from Patna, is being built by the Mahavir Mandir trust, Patna, which also runs four hospitals in the state.
Spread over 200 acres, it would be the world’s biggest Hindu temple. Close to 40 acres of land were either donated or sold to the temple committee at a very nominal price by Muslim families living in the area.
Retired IPS officer Kishore Kunal, the man behind the project, told The Sunday Guardian that the temple was not a replica of the Angkor Wat — only the spire of the temple would be identical. “The design of this temple is inspired by the sun temple of Chennai and other similar temples in India, which are far older than the one in Cambodia. Last week I met the Culture Secretary, the Indian Ambassador Designate to Cambodia, Secretary (East), and the First Secretary of the Cambodian Embassy in New Delhi and explained to them that the proposed temple is substantially different from Angkor Wat. The Indian officials were convinced, and I will be submitting a detailed report soon to make it even clearer. Now it is up to Government of India to decide what stand to take,” he said.
Kunal added that building a temple was a part of his fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 226. “I have been meeting officials so that things can be settled amicably. The temple in Champaran will focus on pilgrims rather than tourists, unlike Angkor Wat,” he said.
Located in Cambodia’s Siem Reap province, Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the country’s most popular tourist destination. According to the latest figures, the 12th century site attracted close to 8.5 lakh foreign tourists in the first four months of this year, earning $24.1 million from ticket sales.
Construction was to begin this month in Champaran, but was stalled after the Cambodian government lodged the protest. Cambodian Ambassador Hun Han visited Champaran on 31 May at the direction of Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong, and concluded that the proposed temple would be a “replica” of Angkor Wat.
After this, the Cambodian government sent an official protest to the Ministry of External Affairs. The ministry, while corresponding with the Union Minister of Culture, asked Kishore to stop the construction, as India has friendly ties with Cambodia and the sentiments of that country must be respected. The Cambodian government said that the historically good diplomatic ties between the two countries would be disrupted if the project went ahead. “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 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 proposed Virat Ramayan Mandir in Champaran will have a height of 379 feet, taller than the 215 feet Angkor Wat, and will be built of red sandstone. The temple will be 2,400 ft long and 1,400 ft wide. The complex will have 18 temples with high spires and will be dedicated to various Hindu deities. The proposed Shiva temple will house the world’s largest shiva linga. Kunal also plans to appoint Dalit priests at the temples. He had appointed a Dalit priest to the Mahavir temple in Patna in 1993.