Since it was built in the 12th century, Angkor Wat has stood as the world’s largest Hindu temple. But on Wednesday, India unveiled an architect’s model of a new temple that will easily overtake the record, standing nearly double the height of Angkor Wat when completed, Indian media reported.
The new Indian temple, which is being built in Bihar province and will cover more than 80 hectares, was originally planned to be an exact replica of Angkor Wat until the Cambodian government angrily protested the appropriation of its national symbol, prompting India to suspend the plans in March 2012.
However, the project is now moving forward under a new name and with a new design, the Hindustan Times reported. According to the newspaper, the Angkor temple replica, which is being built by the Bihar State Board of Religious Trusts, will stand more than 120 meters tall and will accommodate 20,000 people within its environs.
Indian Ambassador to Cambodia Dinesh Patnaik said that out of respect to Cambodia’s objections to the project, the Indian government had asked the designers not to create an exact copy of Angkor and to change the name of the temple from Viraat Angkor Wat Ram Mandir to Viraat Ramayan Mandir.
In the process of making those diplomatic changes, the designers also decided to make it far bigger than the original in Siem Reap province.
“The plans were changed out of respect, and the name of temple was also changed. This temple will be much larger than Angkor Wat, which is essentially one main temple, and it will have more spires,” he said.
Mr. Patnaik said it was election time in India and that the government essentially wanted to build a big temple. However, he said that though the temple will resemble Angkor Wat, all Indian Hindu temples look very similar.
Angkor Wat, one of the world’s most important archaeological sites, is the cornerstone of Cambodia’s tourism industry, attracting 1.57 million tourists in the first nine months of this year—half of the total international arrivals to Cambodia.
Mr. Patnaik said that the sheer scale of the new temple would not diminish the grandeur of Angkor Wat or affect tourism to the original site.
“People don’t go to Angkor Wat because of its size, they go because it is a priceless piece of history,” he said.
“When Donald Trump builds a replica of the Taj Mahal in Las Vegas, it does not take away from the Taj Mahal in India,” he added.
Im Sokrithy, chief of the information department at the Apsara Authority, which manages the Angkor Wat temple complex, said Wednesday that as far as he was aware, India had canceled its plans to build the temple. But he agreed that no new temple would affect the appeal of Cambodia’s national symbol.
“At the time of announcing the intention to build a replica temple, there was a big debate—will we lose tourists, for example. But… Angkor Wat is centuries old with historical value. It is a mysterious place that is still a living, breathing site and this is where its attraction lies.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, who had described the original plan to build a replica of Angkor Wat as “shameful” and said at the time that he thought it would confuse tourists, said Wednesday that he was confident it would not outshine the original.
“Angkor Wat is a World Heritage Site. It is centuries old, and a new building, no matter how big it goes, cannot compare to our unique, historical site, which is not just a building but represents a civilization and is a towering achievement of humankind,” he said.
“It will be completely unaffected by a factory-built copy.”