Indian television channels and websites have of late launched a campaign asking people to vote for the inclusion of the Taj Mahal as one of the seven ?new wonders? of the world. With barely three weeks left for the nominations to close, hectic efforts including celebrity endorsements are on to get the most perfect jewel of Muslim art in India into the elite club through sms, internet and phone voting. Music wizard A R Rahman has even composed a theme song for the Taj to canvass support for the historic monument in Agra built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife Persian born princess Arjuman Bano Begum popularly known as Mumtaz Mahal.
Notwithstanding the controversies surrounding the Taj, including claims by some Hindu groups that it was built over a temple dedicated to Goddess Yamuna and the alleged atrocities perpetrated on the workmen (whose hands were reportedly cut-off by the Emperor who did not want them to build any such grand mausoleum), the Mughal tomb remains an integral part of our composite heritage and attracts tourists from the world over, providing employment to lakhs of our countrymen and millions of dollars in foreign exchange.
And as Indians, we should also undoubtedly join this campaign to enable this enduring symbol of our country to make it to the top seven. But equally significant, both for all Indians and Hindus across the globe is the presence of the world'slargest Hindu temple, Angkor, among the 21 finalist candidates in the campaign to choose the New Seven Wonders of the World.
The most important monument of the Khmer Empire and the world'slargest sacred temple complex, Angkor is famous for its complex ornamentation and striking beauty. The temples at Angkor are spread out over 64 kms around the village of Sien Reap, about 308 kms from the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.
Like many other aspects of their culture, the Cambodians adapted Indian architectural methods and styles. The Hindu religion played an important part in the Khmer temples. In fact, the Hindu monarch Jayavarman II introduced the cult of ?Devaraja? into Cambodia, which saw the King as a representative of Lord Shiva. From then on, the temples were built to honour both the Lord and the King. However, the Angkor Wat temple was originally dedicated to Lord Vishnu though later it was converted to a Buddhist temple.
Angkor is a vernacular form of the word nokor which comes from the Sanskrit word nagara (city), while wat is the Khmer word for temple.
The most famous temple in Angkor is Angkor Wat, a huge pyramid temple built by King Suryavarman II between 1113 and 1150, generally seen as the masterpiece of Khmer architecture. It is surrounded by a 570 feet wide and about 6.4 km long moat. With its water moats, concentric walls and great temple mountain in the center, Angkor Wat symbolizes the Hindu cosmos, with its oceans at the periphery and the Meru mountain at the centre of the universe.
Other impressive temples include Ta Prohm in the midst of still dense jungles and the Bayon built by King Jayavarman VII in the later part of 12th century that features among other things 3,936 feet of beautiful bas-relief carving.
There are other temples located in the area and Khmer temples can also be found in many other parts of Cambodia, as well as China, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam.
For the Cambodians, the Angkor Wat has become a matter of national pride with the temple appearing even on its national flag, the only building to appear on any national flag. In fact, riots erupted in the capital city after a Thai artist claimed that the temple belonged to Thailand.
For us Indians too, Angkor not only reminds us of our ancient glory but also symbolizes the deep impact Indian culture had across the globe, particularly South-East Asia. After the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan, Angkor remains the most potent symbol of the glory of Hindu culture outside of India.
The shortlist was chosen by a panel of world remowned architects and ex-UNESCO Chief Federico Mayor in January 2006, out of 77 public nominations.
In fact, only one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, survives to this date.
The internet contest for the new seven wonders is aimed at raising global awareness about the world'sshared cultural heritage and was conceived by Swiss film maker, curator and traveler Bernard Weber, following the destruction of the giant Buddha statues at Bamyan in 2001.
Though Indian television channels are running a campaign for the inclusion of the Taj in the list appealing to the nationalist sentiments, much of the internet and phone text message voting so far has avoided national preferences.
A visit to the site ?www.new7wonders.com? would reveal that any visitor can vote for any seven monuments of his or her choice. So, if Taj deserves your vote, click the mouse for Angkor Wat too. It is as much ours as is the Taj.