Nek Chand Saini, Creator of Rock Garden

Nek Chand Saini (नेक चंद सैनी) is a self-taught Indian artist, famous for building the world famous Rock Garden of Chandigarh, an eighteen acre sculpture garden in the city of Chandigarh, India.

A Saini from Shakargarh Area of Gurdaspur

He hails from Shakargarh region (now in Pakistan) of district Gurdaspur. His family moved to Chandigarh in 1947 during the Partition. At the time, the city was being redesigned as a modern utopia by the Swiss/French architect Le Corbusier. It was to be the first planned city in India, and Chand found work there as a roads inspector for the Public Works Department in 1951. He was awarded the Padma Shri by Government of India in 1984.

Rock Garden of Chandigarh:  Saini's Brainchild

In his spare time, Nek Chand began collecting materials from demolition sites around the city. He recycled these materials into his own vision of the divine kingdom of Sukrani, choosing a gorge in a forest near Sukhna Lake for his work. The gorge had been designated as a land conservancy, a forest buffer established in 1902 that nothing could be built on. Chand’s work was illegal, but he was able to hide it for eighteen years before it was discovered by the authorities in 1975. By this time, it had grown into a 12-acre (49,000 m2) complex of interlinked courtyards, each filled with hundreds of pottery-covered concrete sculptures of dancers, musicians, and animals.

His work was in serious danger of being demolished, but he was able to get public opinion on his side, and in 1976 the park was inaugurated as a public space. Nek Chand was given a salary, a title ("Sub-Divisional Engineer, Rock Garden"), and a workforce of 50 laborers so that he could concentrate full-time on his work. It even appeared on an Indian stamp in 1983. The Rock Garden is still made out of recycled materials; and with the government’s help, Chand was able to set up collection centers around the city for waste, especially rags and broken ceramics.

Global Lecture Tour

When Chand left the country on a lecture tour in 1996, the city withdrew its funding, and vandals attacked the park. The Rock Garden Society took over the administration and upkeep of this unique visionary environment. The garden is visited by over five thousand people daily, with a total of more than twelve million visitors since its inception.

Nek Chand Saini Exhibitions

Saini's statues have found their way into museums across the world, including an environment at the Capitol Children’s Museum in Washington, DC, the American Folk Art Museum in New York City and the main entrance to the Musée de l'Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Wisconsin, USA owns the largest collection of Chand's work outside of Chandigarh. The pieces were on exhibition there from June 2007 to January 2008 as part of the museum's focus on artist environment builders, or outsider artists.

An exhibition of Nek Chand's work also took place at the RIBA gallery in Liverpool, England from April 16 to May 11, 2007. The exhibition displayed survey drawings of the garden's architecture and landscaping, and plans to be a traveling exhibition.

There is a Nek Chand Foundation in London founded to raise funds for the garden.

Indian and International Awards Conferred on Nek Chand Saini

  • Padam Shree , Government of India
  • Medaille de la Ville de Paris (Silver Medal for Contribution to World Culture) , France
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Folk Art Society of America
  • Certificate of Commendation , The Folk Art Museum of America
  • Certificate of Commendation,  Port Authority, New York and New Jersey
  • Certificate of Commendation, Envision Society of Folk Art

Press Coverage

Here are a selection of links to press coverage of the Rock Garden online:

India's Vast Trash Garden a Monument to Recycling

Article from Folio Magazine with The Hindu newspaper

On a Mission from UK, article in Chandigarh Tribune (October 2004)

UK Girls do a Nek Wonder, article in The Times of India (October 2004)