Illustration Portrait of Nek Chand

The kingdom of Nek Chand

Posted on 21 October 2015.

Indian artist Nek Chand, who died this summer, was the brilliant creator of the largest folk art garden in the world – using only waste, discarded objects and stones.

For Nek Chand, waste was a treasure that allowed him to give life to his imaginary kingdom.

Every evening and every weekend from 1958 to 1975, Nek Chand jumped on his bicycle and rode to a forest on the outskirts of Chandigarh in India. In this isolated place, and in the greatest secrecy, the self-taught artist created a huge, fabulous, poetic world populated by colorful, compassionate creatures.

Nek Chand was a government official at the time. He had fled his village of Berian Kalan during the partition of India in 1947, settled in Delhi and later in Chandigarh, the new capital of the Indian Punjab. The Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, wanted to make it the symbol of modern India. Its design was entrusted to the architect and urban planner Le Corbusier, who realized his vision of the ideal city there. Nek Chand was then employed by the Public Works Department and was involved in building this city of the future on the ruins of the small surrounding villages.

The kingdom of gods and goddesses

In the face of Le Corbusier’s rationalist architecture, Nek Chand began his own artistic project, the Rock Garden. A wonderful and secret world inspired by his native village and the fantastic stories his mother had told him. On a hidden piece of land well away from the city, he made an impressive collection of disparate materials – all taken there on his bicycle… colored stones, curiously shaped rocks, waste and objects unearthed in the rubble of demolished houses. Using concrete and a few simple tools, he erected and decorated hundreds of statues of men, women, children and animals to populate his chimerical city. His personal realm, which he named the Kingdom of Gods and Goddesses, expanded daily.

The best kept secret in india discovered!

The rest of the story is like a fairy tale. In 1973, Nek Chand’s kingdom was discovered. The artist risked losing everything! His job, of course, and the empire he had painstakingly - but completely illegally - built over the years... However, the city officials were so amazed by what they found that they decided to recognize Nek Chand’s work. The Kingdom of Gods and Goddesses - now called the Rock Garden - opened to the public in 1976. Better still, the artist was encouraged to continue working! He was paid to care for the garden full-time, and was joined by a team of workers and volunteers. Soon the Rock Garden acquired an international reputation, and the artist was invited to exhibit and create all over the world, receiving dozens of awards.

When garbage becomes art

Recycling was always at the heart of Nek Chand’s work. After his garden was found, it became even truer! The people of Chandigarh supported him by bringing him waste - broken dishes, electrical equipment, old tires, glass bottles, barrels of tar, torn saris and broken bangles, tiles, ceramics... Spoils that Nek Chand transformed into art, delighting visitors from all over the world.

Today, the huge garden is inhabited by almost 2000 statues and covers 12 hectares. It is organized around an initiatory journey that includes lanes, courtyards, waterfalls, temples, a theater and thousands and thousands of sculptures lined up like soldiers. Nek Chand died on June 12, 2015 in Chandigarh, but his work lives on. Every day more than 5000 people visit the Rock Garden, which has become the second largest tourist attraction in India after the Taj Mahal.