Saturday, 22 November 2014

India and China to coordinate the management of a Shiva temple...........

NEW DELHI: India and China will team up to coordinate the management of a famous but controversial Shiva temple situated on the border of Thailand and Cambodia. In a piece of deft diplomacy, India is now a co-chair of the international coordination committee under UNESCO that will oversee this temple.

Preah Vihear, an 11th century temple, which devotees believe even holds a footprint of Shiva, is a memorable piece of Khmer architecture, and has been a bone of contention between Thailand and Cambodia for decades. Although India had a keen interest in the temple, it had traditionally stayed away from the issue, reluctant to annoy Thailand. Many years ago, Cambodia had asked India to intervene on its behalf and take over the restoration of the temple, but India refused.

But earlier this year, the World Heritage Committee under UNESCO was setting up the international coordination committee that would manage the temple which was declared a world heritage site in 2008. India, for the first time, shed its traditional hesitation and negotiated for itself a co-chair's role in the body. China had already secured a place for itself as co-chair, having pledged a large quantity of money to the Cambodians to restore and manage the temple.

The coordination committee will meet for the first time on December 3. India is likely to be represented either by the culture secretary or the DG ASI. In a way, it will give the ASI an opportunity to redeem its own reputation in that country. India got elbowed out of the ICC of Angkor Wat by France and Japan years ago, largely because of a couple of goof-ups by the ASI during their restoration of the world famous temple. Cambodia now falls under the Chinese sphere of influence, though France retains a strong presence there.

Preah Vihear has been the site of border skirmishes between between Thailand and Cambodia as recently as 2009. On November 11, 2013, the International Court of Justice ruled that Cambodia had sovereign jurisdiction over not only the temple but the territory in the vicinity, and Thailand was asked to remove its armed personnel from there. Though there has been no more violence, armed guards still protect the temple. Cambodia has the right to develop the area for tourist purposes, on the lines of Angkor Wat which is one of the hottest tourist destinations in Asia.

According to the UNESCO website, the temple is "composed of a series of sanctuaries linked by a system of pavements and staircases over an 800 metre long axis and dates back to the first half of the 11th century AD. Nevertheless, its complex history can be traced to the 9th century, when the hermitage was founded. ... The site is exceptional for the quality of its architecture, which is adapted to the natural environment.