You may have found shapes in stones and collected them to make castles as a kid. Well, Nek Chand took this hobby way too far and thus was born the Rock Garden in Chandigarh
WORDS: AMOGH PUROHIT
Somewhere back in 1957, a government official got bored and started collecting stones and debris in his spare time. When he started this garden, little did he know that it would turn out to be one of the largest attractions in northern India, with over 5,000 people visiting it every day.
Today, this garden known as Rock Garden is spread over an area of 25 acres in the form of an open-air exhibition hall, theatre trove and a miniature maze all rolled into one vast fantasyland of art. It is completely built of industrial and home waste and thrown-away items.
An unpretentious entrance leads to a magnificent, almost surrealist arrangement of rocks, boulders, broken chinaware, discarded fluorescent tubes, broken and castaway glass bangles, building waste, coal and clay -all juxtaposed to create a dream folk world of palaces, soldiers, monkeys, village life, women and temples.
The open-air sculptures and concealed gateways separating them are at places enhanced by a waterfall, pools and an open-air theatre with proper stage setting. Here, in this small but artistic theatre, several prestigious performances have been staged. The unique blend of art and culture has attracted artists and connoisseurs from all over the world making it almost a heritage site.
On display are statues, dolls and toys made using a variety of discarded materials such as automotive frames, mudguards, forks, handle bars, metal wires, play marbles, crowns of soft drink bottles, porcelain, broken bangles, pieces of slate, burnt bricks and even human hair from barber shops.
Humble road inspector
The creator of the Rock Garden, Nek Chand, was a humble road inspector. For sport, he would roam around at the foothills of the Shivalik mountains on his bicycle and pick up stones resembling shapes of birds and animals. He found potential in this hobby and gradually his collection mounted to a staggering 20,000 rocks of all shapes and sizes. These were deposited around a hut, which he had built for his work and contemplation. The Rock Garden, as we know it, began here by the side of a stream.
It was only in February 1973 that a government official, on reconnaissance duty in the forest in which the garden is located today, accidentally discovered the Rock Garden. Soon thereafter, the late Dr. M S Randhawa, former Chief Commissioner of Chandigarh, visited the garden and suggested that this garden of rocks, stones and scrap was the most unusual and it should be preserved in its present form, free from the interference of architects and town planners. The Rock Garden was finally inaugurated in 1976.
Since the site where the Rock Garden stands today was also used as a dumping ground for urban and industrial
waste, Nek Chand picked up pieces of foundry lime-kiln and metal workshop wastes and also shaped them with his creative genius, resembling human, animal or abstract forms. These pieces are up on display throughout the garden. Making the best use of waste, on display are statues, dolls and toys made using a variety of discarded materials such as automotive frames, mudguards, forks, handle bars, metal wires, play marbles, crowns of soft drink bottles, porcelain, broken bangles, pieces of slate, burnt bricks and even human hair from barber shops. This just goes on to show how urban and industrial waste can be fruitfully recycled and used in creative pursuit.
Nek Chand laid out the garden based on the fantasy of a lost kingdom. The moment one enters the garden, the small entrance doors make the head bow; they not only create an ambience of royal grandeur but also impart humbleness. One has to pass through a variety of doorways, archways, vestibules, streets and lanes of different scales and dimensions, where each door opens to new courtyards and chambers revealing his magnificent works at every turn.
In this kingdom made of rocks and other recycled material, the Rock Garden has 14 different chambers like the forecourt that houses natural rock-forms, a royal poet’s and a musician’s chamber complete with a pond and a hut; the main court or Durbar, where the king’s throne adorns the place with natural stone forms depicting Gods and Goddesses lining the place; a swimming pool for the queen, etc.
Another phase of the garden comprises the grand palace complex, minars, water falls, a village, mountains, bridges, pavilions and areas for royal pleasures. The tree and root sculpture offers a powerful counterpoint to the existing vegetation.
If you plan to visit, make sure to attend the Teej festival. The Rock Garden adorns a festive look, holding a special attraction for tourists. Young girls partake in the fun and frolic by swaying on the giant swings, while others decorate their hands with mehendi. And all this happens in an atmosphere of dance, songs and joy.