Angkor Wat temple replica to rise on banks of the Ganges

For Hindus who can't visit Cambodian world heritage site, retired Indian cop is building a copy in Bihar dedicated to the deity Ram

Though India is the homeland of Hindus, their grandest temple stands thousands of miles away in Cambodia. Now the trustee of a temple in Bihar has decided to do something about it – he is building a full-scale replica of the 12th century temple of Angkor Wat on the banks of the Ganges river, near the state capital Patna.

"The Angkor Wat temple in Bihar will be as majestic as the original, and slightly larger – it will be 222ft by 222ft, and its five shikharas [towers] will also be 222ft high," said Kishore Kunal, who runs the Mahavir Mandir temple trust in Patna. "And when it's ready in 10 years time, it will be a functioning temple, employing at least a dozen priests."

The project, Kunal estimates, will cost at least 600m rupees (£7.5m) – half to create the basic structure, the rest for the embellishments, including sculptures of gods and goddesses. The replica, though, will not be ringed by a moat nor have a palace on its campus.

But the main difference will be in the temple's presiding deity. The original Khmer temple at Angkor, built in the 12th century by a Hindu king from a dynasty linked to southern India and now a Unesco world heritage site, was dedicated to Vishnu. Bihar's replica will be called the Virat Angkor Wat Ram Mandir, and will have Ram as the main deity, flanked by his consort Sita, who is said to have been a native of the state.

Groundbreaking ceremony for Bihar's replica Angkor Wat
Groundbreaking ceremony for Bihar's replica Angkor Wat temple. Photograph: Maseeh Rahman

Ram, though, is an avatar of Vishnu and, according to legend, the Hindu god once crossed the Ganges at the very spot where the temple dedicated to him will be constructed.

Kunal, a 61-year-old retired police officer, has never visited the original temple complex in Cambodia, which moved from Hindu to Buddhist use in the 13th century. He is planning his first visit soon but hopes that thousands of Indians who cannot afford to visit Angkor Wat will be able to experience its grandeur by visiting the replica nearer home.

Under Kunal's management, the Mahavir Mandir temple trust has built three hospitals in Patna, while as head of the state religious trust board, he has restored 12 historical temples in Bihar. The trust will finance half the cost of the replica temple. "Those who know me know I complete my projects," he said.

Kunal conducted the temple's groundbreaking ceremony on Monday. Since the style of the original Angkor Wat was influenced by Dravidian architecture, with its typical storeyed towers, traditional South Indian temple builders are being hired for the project in Bihar. The basic structure will be in concrete clad in granite, since using stone, as in the original, will double the cost and take twice as long to complete. The towers will be fashioned from stone fragments using an ancient technique.

"Someone told me the Cambodians are upset that I'm creating a replica of Angkor Wat," he said. "But why should they? If the Taj Mahal is recreated in the UK, we won't mind. We'll feel happy."

Maseeh Rahman in Delhi

The GuardianTramp

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