“All the stones have souls, they are alive. I brought them here by myself, one by one, on my bicycle. The stones are like gods and goddesses: there is life in them. Whenever I see them or pass them, they touch my heart. When we look at them they look at us too.” ~ (Nek Chand, Sublimes spaces & visionary world)
We live in the 21st century, no, I don’t doubt it; it’s just a gentle reminder to few souls out there who are wanderers and live in their own enthralling world. They thrive by their passion, feed on the fire in the belly, inhale a tiny dream and exhale a beautiful piece of art! How hard it is to find such passionate people who in spite of having troubles manifolds won’t wind up their courage and say no? Not much I feel so; you can see one such spirit in Nek Chand (Saini), who with his undying spirit created the magnificent artwork, in the city of Chandigarh- ‘The rock Garden’.
The Rock Garden also known as Nek Chand’s Rock Garden is spread over 40 acres land. Who would believe that an activity started as a hobby would turn into a passion and one day would shape into an artistic creation lauded by the world? A government employee by profession, Nek Chand knew the ‘art of creating an art’ from wastes.
His early tryst with the rocks started by collecting stones & pebbles from around the region of Ghaggar river, 25 miles away from where he worked, which he would carry it on his bicycle. He called his bicycle, a true companion, in his ‘lonely journey’. He started his rock collection as a leisurely activity which started taking shape in the dense bushes of the secluded place away from the city of Chandigarh, much close to the dump yard of the city. He always knew that it was a government’s land, restricted for any of such activities but that couldn’t restrain him from following his passion.
He continued his passion with intensity that over the years the first phase of garden called “the kingdom of gods and goddess” (where one can find stones ranging from the size of a pea to slab) was completed. The dumped wastes- tiles, porcelain, crockery, wash basins, industrial as well as domestic were given a new life, a new identity in the garden.
He knew there was no one to appreciate his work or place for the garden in the well-planned dream city of Le Corbusier and if anyone found out about the whole thing, he could lose his job and his garden razed. But still he couldn’t hold back his spirit and continue. His endeavor finally paid off but not before phenomenal adventures.
He always had tremendous support from the people and together they survived the official’s wrath and monetary dearth. The rock garden survived the threat of demolition in 90’ and the bitter vandalism in 96’, which led to the formation of Nek Chand Foundation. It was never hunky dory for him, but nothing could ever shake his commitment. The rock garden stands tall as a pride of the city.
The garden is built in three phases; with several thousand sculptures set in large mosaic courtyards connected by walled paths and deep valley, an amazing place of human and animal statues and other wonderful sculptures. One can be easily mesmerized by the splendid work of art, created out of the waste like natural forms and objects, turned and twisted distorted rocks, courtyard decorated with sculptures, that would take you into a lost kingdom of kings and queens. A large waterfall, a canal, a tiny village, & sculptures of horses and camels that were added in the third phase, continue to amuse the visitors.
Nek Chand was awarded Grande Médaille de Vermeil in Paris in 1980 &Padamshree in 1984. His one of the sculptures from the garden also appeared in the Indian postage stamp in 1983. Today, the rock garden stands as a synonym to the culture of the city and witnesses hundreds of visitors daily.
The rock garden is the work of a man who believed in himself; created wealth out of the thrash, bestowed life into the inanimate things. No wonder he continues to be popular for his incredible work and inspire many to follow their passion. He is gone, but his footprints will remain, his artistic creations will continue to be a thing of wonder for years to come. Nek Chand’s story of endeavour, struggle and courage is something to cherish upon as how passion and patience can pay off. A salute to him!