The optimism of High Modernism permeated the times and India needed a new capitol city for the Punjab region after the Partition of 1947. Le Corbusier was selected to design a modern idyll, the first planned city in India, Chandigarh. Around the same time Nek Chand got a job working for the Department of Public Works that was in charge of construction. Mr. Chand had always enjoyed collecting rocks and in his spare time he picked rocks and remnants from demolished structures. A vision formed of the divine kingdom of Sukrani to be built with these recycled materials. He began on a site behind the storage facilities where he worked, a gorge in a forest near Sukhna Lake. Chand worked in secret, the massive construction around the city a perfect decoy for his project. Nek’s passion for building with rocks grew and he eventually diverted building materials and labor until the rock garden became a 12-acre complex of linked courtyards, with hundreds of sculptures of dancers, musicians, and animals. After 18 years his project was discovered, but public opinion stopped demolition and improbably enough Nek was made "Sub-Divisional Engineer, Rock Garden” and given 50 workers to continue his park which now covers forty acres. Although his work was preserved much political manipulation followed and the rock garden went into decline, was rescued, threatened with a road bisecting it, rescued, stopped repeatedly by bureaucratic infighting but always saved by the press and public opinion. In 1996, after the city withdrew funding, The Rock Garden Society took over administration of the park.
Nek Chand’s sculptures are in museums around the world and reflect his understanding of and ability to communicate with simple materials that trigger deeply embedded cultural associations. These pieces are not just the naive decoration of folk art and at the same time his ability to construct an overall architectural space at Chandigarh demonstrates an awareness of a larger context for his work and is rare in a self taught artist.
In terms of city planning and architecture, this experiment is an example of a method that would be difficult to reproduce but resulted in something perhaps more enduring and meaningful than the planned city that spawned it.
Extensive photo documentation of Nek Chand's Rock Garden is available at Iain Jackson's site: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/iainjackson/nekchand_info/pages/photos.html