There is something deeply disturbing about wanting to build such a large temple in what is arguably India’s poorest state, a state that like many other states of India, particularly in north India, is crying for more schools, more hospitals and primary health centres, and, dare I say it, more toilets for everyone, says Amberish K Diwanji
Temples are in the news suddenly. First, wannabe PM Narendra Modi declared that India needs toilets before it needs temples. In fact, Modi categorically stated that despite being perceived as a Hindutva icon, his real thoughts were toilets first, temple later. Incidentally, some months ago, minister for rural development Jairam Ramesh had made a similar comment, and the right-wing Hindu parties reacted with typical fury, saying his statements insulted Hindus, Hinduism, and what not. It remains to be seen how these Hindu parties react when their very hero, Modi, spoke what is really the simple truth.
There have also been news reports about plans to build the world’s largest Hindu temple in Bihar. The Virat Mandir is being built in West Champaran district of Bihar, and will have a tower 405 feet tall and a hall with a seating capacity for 20,000. It would appear from this report that the aim of this mega project is to create a temple larger than the temple at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, currently the world’s largest temple, with a spire 215 feet high. This mega project, which will house 18 temples, will cost Rs 500 crore. Money for it will be raised through donations. The person behind the project, Kishore Kunal, a retired IPS officer, reportedly said, “The funds for the temple will be donated by devotees, particularly common people across the country.”
Granted Rs 500 crore isn’t an earth shattering figure in this era when we in India have suffered the ignominy of scams with figures such as Rs 1.76 lakh crore (just putting zeroes to it is mind-boggling!), or even the fodder scam that just sent Bihar strongman Laloo Prasad Yadav go to jail for five years, which back in the 1990s cost India Rs 900 crore.
Yet, there is something deeply disturbing about wanting to build such a large temple in what is arguably India’s poorest state, a state that like many other states of India, particularly in north India, is crying for more schools, more hospitals and primary health centres, and, dare I say it, more toilets for everyone.
The Angkor Wat temples were built by kings at the height of their power. That is to be expected. India too has its share of fabulous monuments, built by our rulers of the past to glorify their reign. Thus we have temples and mausoleums, churches or grandiose palaces (not the least being Rashtrapati Bhavan, the world’s largest presidential palace at present, built by the British as Viceroy House with the explicit aim of showcasing British Raj).
It won’t be fair to single out India. This has happened across the world. Every major empire, every powerful country, has sought to leave a mark, giving us architectural wonders.
But there is a pattern here. These wonders were built by empires or kingdoms, civilisations or nations, when they were at the height of their political and economic power. The Khajuraho carvings were made when the Chandela Rajputs were at their peak; the Taj Mahal and Red Fort were built by Shah Jahan, at a time of prosperity for the Mughal Empire, and of course we all know that Lutyens Delhi was built when Pax Britannica ruled the waves, and India.
No one would today even pretend that India is a prosperous nation, a land of peace and plenty. If India is badly off, Bihar is worst off. In fact, just a few days ago, in a new way of measuring prosperity and poverty, Bihar was ranked among India’s poorest states. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was pleased as Punch with the ranking, because it gives him an index to seek more financial assistance from the Centre.
In this atmosphere, to seek to build the world’s largest temple in Bihar, or for that matter even in India, smacks of callousness, of unconcern at the stifling poverty that continues to pervade this nation. To tout the figures about how many children continue to drop out of school every year or how many women are malnourished would only be to berate the point.
Those men who want to beat the Angkor Wat must ponder: is India of Manmohan Singh a patch on the Khmer of Suryavarman II? Do we deserve such a grand temple in this country today when, as Modi rightly pointed out, so many people still defecate in the open because as a country (and as a culture) we just don’t have enough toilets? India isn’t ready yet for a grand temple; that must wait till every Indian is fed, clothed, housed, educated, healthy, and gainfully employed.
Those seeking to build oversized temples today are doing to satiate their egos. Doing so isn’t just tragic, it’s criminal.
Image: Then President Pratibha Patil takes a look at one of the structures at the Ta Prohm Temple near Angkor Wat, which has been overgrown by trees. She made the visit on September 17, 2010