After the Taj Mahal, the most popular tourist attraction in India is a 40-acre garden on the outskirts of the capital city of the Punjab region. The Rock Garden of Chandigarh contains thousands of sculptures set in large mosaic courtyards linked by walled paths, deep gorges, buildings and a series of interlinking waterfalls. It was created by a self-taught artist, Nek Chand, and the story of how it came to be is as breathtaking as the art.
Nek Chand was born in 1924. At age 23 he was displaced from his small Punjabi village, which stood on the newly created border between India and Pakistan. In 1951 he settled in Chandigarh, Punjab’s new capital, soon to become India’s first modern city, designed by French architect by Le Corbusier. Nek Chand found work as a road inspector and watched as the government razed two dozen villages to build Le Corbusier’s concrete city.
He collected debris from the razed villages and secretly cleared a small patch of forest on public land where trespassing was forbidden. After work, at night and on weekends, Nek Chand collected various remains — rocks, shards of glass, tiles, bangles, bottle caps, broken crockery, and bicycles — and taught himself to sculpt. His goal: to create his own vision of the divine kingdom of Sukrani. But you know: Beauty is, as always, …
Using homemade concrete poured over armatures made from bicycle parts, Nek Chand began building statues of Hindu gods and goddesses and people and animals he had met or learned about through local legend. And unlike the stark modern city around him, his statues were decorated lavishly with found objects pressed into the cement. Isn’t it all about right timing?
He worked in secret and filled his outdoor installation with 1,000 statues before the local government discovered it in 1975. Officials were outraged because it was built on government land illegally and they wanted to destroy it. Instead, after several protests, in 1976 the government decided to turn his Rock Garden into a public park. Nek Chand was named director, with a salary and 50 full-time apprentices to help him develop his vision.
Most of Nek Chand’s work remains in India. A few pieces are included in New York City’s American Folk Art Museum and the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The National Children’s Museum in Washington, DC owns a number of sculptures gifted by Nek Chand in the 1980s. Because the museum is relocating, the collection is in storage until it reopens in 2009. Read more about art and craft here.
The Rock Garden celebrates more than 40 years of being open to the public and offers environmental awareness and art education and environmental awareness.