Chandigarh, India, is an unlikely location for the world's largest folk-art environment. Chandigarh, a stark 20th-century utopian dream city, was designed by the Swiss architect Le Corbusier. In the midst of this carefully planned, 1950s-style architecture lies a 40-acre garden kingdom comprised of meandering paths, courtyards, waterfalls, pavilions, theaters, plazas and thousands of sculptures created by an untutored builder named Nek Chand Saini (b.1924). In the past few years, completing this monumental endeavor and guaranteeing its preservation has become an international effort involving many individuals and organizations.
In 1951, Nek Chand arrived in Chandigarh to work as a road inspector for the Indian government's Public Works Department. In 1958, he began collecting curiously shaped rocks, discarded materials and recyclable items from the demolition of the villages that once stood on the site where Chandigarh was being built. Around 1965, working secretly at night and on weekends in a publicly owned forest reserve, Nek Chand assembled the materials, including rocks, broken crockery and colored stones, using concrete and a few primitive tools. He had carefully observed the techniques of using concrete in building the new city, particularly in the Government Center, then under construction. Nek Chand was fascinated by the plastic nature of concrete, and his creative impulse was stimulated by the building going on around him.
The place he chose for his exotic kingdom had been designated as a land conservancy, where any kind of building was forbidden. Nevertheless, there he built a miniature world depicting Indian village life, as well as a fantasy kingdom of palaces, pavilions and other structures.
Ten years later, in 1975, city inspectors stumbled across this illegal construction in the forest. The Chandigarh bureaucracy wanted it destroyed. Nek Chand's creation occupied government land that had been set aside as green space between the government buildings of Le Corbusier and the city proper. When word spread, hundreds of people found their way through the forests to see this enchanted kingdom. After much debate, the Chandigarh Landscape Advisory Committee relented and allowed Nek Chand to open his creation to the public.
After visiting the site and recognizing its artistic value, Dr. M.S. Randhawa, an agricultural scientist, gave the site the name Rock Garden. The Rock Garden was formally inaugurated on January 24, 1976, before a crowd of thousands. Thereafter, with a small budget and a group of helpers provided by the local government, Nek Chand was encouraged to enlarge his garden and continue his many projects.
The stages of the garden's complex construction have been designated as Phase I, the earliest, begun in 1965; Phase II, completed around 1983; and Phase III, which is still under construction and scheduled to be completed about 2003. Nek Chand set up a local network whereby broken crockery, tiles, rags and other discarded items could be brought to the garden for recycling.
With the aid of government workers, Phase I was quickly completed, and Nek Chand moved to Phase II, which included a waterfall, several plazas, a small theater, gardens, paths and nearly 5,000 pottery-encrusted concrete figures, some embellished with human hair which Nek Chand had collected from barber shops.
In order to safeguard the sculpture and still make the pieces available for public viewing, Nek Chand placed them on high sloping terraces connected by pathways and div