Rock Garden of ChandigarhNek Chand (15 December 1924 - 12 June 2015)

Status

Extant

Address

Chandigarh, 160001, in

Visiting Information

The Rock Garden is located in Chandigarh’s Sector 1 and is open daily. From April 1 to September 30, it is open from 9am to 7:30pm. From October 1 to March 31, it is open from 9am to 6pm. Entry is Rs. 20 for adults and Rs. 10 for children.

About the Artist/Site

Nek Chand was born on December 15, 1924, in the village of Barian Kalan, located in what is today eastern Pakistan. After completing his education at Ghulam Deen Mangri High School in 1943 he began work on his family’s farm. In 1947 the events of Indian Independence resulted in the concurrent creation of West and East Pakistan (today Pakistan and Bangladesh, respectively) and India as separate nations, and Chand’s family, along with millions of other South Asians, migrated from one side of the new border to the other. As Hindus, Chand’s family relocated from the newly created Muslim Pakistan to more secular India, first settling in Jammu and then in Gurdaspur.  The redrawing of borders during Partition resulted in the loss of a capital city for the state of Punjab on the Indian side of the border, with Punjab’s capital Lahore now located in and administered by Pakistan.  The Nehruvian government and Punjab officials sought to establish a new city that would serve as a replacement administrative capital for Punjab, as well as create an attractive city for Partition immigrants that would serve as an experimental site for the advancement of architecture in the new nation of India.  This city, Chandigarh, designed by a team of European architects (Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, Maxwell Fry, and Jane Drew) together with the support of nine junior-level Indian architects, was inaugurated in 1951.  Twenty-five existing villages were acquired under the Land Acquisition Act of 1894; while a few were incorporated within the new city limits, in the majority of cases entire villages were razed and their population evacuated to make way for city construction.

Nek Chand, responding to the Indian government’s call for displaced Partition refugees to find construction work in the developing city, arrived at the Chandigarh site in 1950 and began work as a roads inspector.  Interested in artistic construction projects, Chand began fashioning small sailing vessels for use on the newly created Sukhna Lake.  When his activities were halted by authorities who cited restrictions on the lake’s use, Chand began working in secret to amass a sizable collection of uniquely shaped river rocks, which he gathered from local seasonal riverbeds.  In the early 1960s Chand began arranging these rocks, together with assembled discards from city construction projects and the households of vacated villagers, on land adjacent to Chandigarh’s Sector 1 Capitol Complex.  Chand, who also had an interest in plants and gardening, collected regional plants and trees used in city landscaping projects in order to establish a clandestine nursery at the site.  As dictated in Chandigarh’s founding edict, this land was to remain undeveloped; fearing destruction of his project, Chand continued to work in secret and largely at night.       

In 1969 Chand visited the office of Chandigarh’s Chief Architect, MN Sharma, describing his project and asking Sharma to visit the site.  Sharma agreed, and upon visiting the site reportedly took the unusual action of encouraging Chand to secretly continue his unauthorized creative work.  Chand continued his work on the site, using broken and discarded household ceramics and fixtures, bicycles, and bangles, as well as construction debris, to create sculptures, walls, and built environments.  In 1973 a team of malarial researchers discovered the artistic project.  Impressed by the scale and aesthetics of the venture, Chief Commissioner MS Randhawa recommended that the then twelve-acre site be maintained rather than destroyed.  Randhawa inaugurated the site as the Rock Garden and it was opened to the public in 1976.  By 1980 the site consisted of arranged rocks, sizeable landscaped elements, built environments, and sculpture fields (features that today make up Phase I and Phase II of the Garden), a perimeter wall, and a café.  Chand was given the official title Creator-Director of the Rock Garden by city officials, and was provided with funding and staff to build and maintain the site.  The site’s Phase III was inaugurated in 1996 and today features a large waterfall, theater, fish tanks, fun-house mirrors, Mughal-inspired pavilions, and large swings.

In 1983 Chand received a Padma Shri, the highest honor given to an Indian civilian, in recognition of his visionary work on the site, and in that same year, one of his sculptures was featured on the Indian postage stamp. In the years to follow Chand received local, national, and international attention; his work was exhibited in several museums and gardens were commissioned in Paris and Washington, D.C.  Upon returning from international travel related to these exhibitions in 1989, however, Chand learned that the city had advanced plans to dismantle a section of the Garden, citing the site’s violation of the city’s edict and project expense.  Outcry from local supporters responding to repeated attempts to curtail or destroy portions of the Garden occurred throughout the early 1990s, but in 1997 Chand returned from the U.S. to discover several sculptures had been vandalized and his security staff removed by city officials.  Local and international protest of this situation led to the formation of the UK-based Nek Chand Foundation in 1997.  The Foundation continues to promote and document the Rock Garden, and to provide financial support and volunteer labor.  The site is also supported by the Chandigarh-based organization Friends of the Rock Garden.

Today the Rock Garden covers approximately forty acres and is a major tourist attraction, welcoming a reported 5,000 visitors a day. Following Nek Chand’s death on June 15, 2015, a week-long series of commemorative and celebratory events took place in Chandigarh and a silicone memorial statue has been placed in his public office at the site. 

The Rock Garden is located in Chandigarh’s Sector 1 and is open to visitors seven days a week from 9:00am to 6:00pm for the entry price of Rs. 20 for adults and Rs. 5 for children; free for individuals over 100 or less than 3 years of age.

~Tracy Bonfitto

 

 

Related Documents

Map & Site Information

, 160001 in
Latitude/Longitude: 30.752535 / 76.810104

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