Young World

Waste to wonder

Unique work: From recycled material. Photo: Wikimedia Commons  

Back in the days when India had gained independence, there lived a super-hero artist in the city of Chandigarh. Nek Chand Saini created the beautiful Rock Garden of Chandigarh almost all by himself. He did it by recycling objects from garbage that people had thrown away. At first, he practised his art in secret — almost like a ninja! Now, his sculptures are world famous and are exhibited in museums such as the American Museum of Folk Art in New York, Capitol Children’s Museum in Washington D.C. and many others in Europe.

Nek Chand was born in 1924 into a family of farmers in the Shakargarh region of Punjab, which is now in Pakistan. As a child, he loved his mother’s stories about kings and queens in beautiful kingdoms. He would play in the nearby forest, making forts and sculptures using mud and broken bangles that he found in the market.

Unusual art

In 1947, when the country was partitioned, Nek Chand’s family crossed the border to India, and settled in Chandigarh. At this time, the city of Chandigarh was under construction by the French architect Le Corbusier. Nek Chand got a job as a roads inspector in the city.

Every evening, instead of going home after work, he would ride his bicycle to a deserted part of the woods near Lake Sukhna. This forested area was protected by the government and nobody wandered there. Nek Chand cleared a part of the forest and built a mud hut as his headquarters. He gathered bangles, bottles, broken plates, electric plugs, bicycle frames, old tube lights, broken bathroom fittings, and other material from garbage bins. He used them to create sculptures of kings, queens, dancers, musicians, snake-charmers, horses and birds among other things.

For 18 years, he built his hidden kingdom of sculptures. His secret was discovered at last by the authorities in 1975. Nek Chand was in danger of losing his job and having his art destroyed. But his work was so enchanting that they gave him permission to create a garden. He got a salary and 50 labourers to help him. Nek Chand continued to work from his mud hut. He used the natural layout of the land, water, stones and trees to create his wonderland. Today, beautiful arches link different parts of the garden, which stretches up to 25 acres. It has more than 2,000 statues, giant swings, deep gorges, streams and a model Punjabi village. Over 5,000 people visit the garden each day.

Nek Chand was honoured with a Padma Shri in 1984. In 1982, a postage stamp was issued with his work on it. He passed away on June 12, 2015. The garden is now cared for by his son, Anuj Saini and the Nek Chand Foundation.

Check out pictures of Nek Chand’s sculptures on the foundation website —, or better yet, visit the Rock Garden in Chandigarh.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 5:18:12 PM |

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