Nek Chand, the creator of the iconic Rock Garden who has amazed people for decades with his unique sculptures made from waste, died at a hospital on Friday following cardiac arrest.
The 90-year-old architectural autodidact had been ailing and was admitted to a private hospital here for the past few days. He was shifted to PGIMER Thursday evening where he died shortly past midnight after suffering cardiac arrest,
The Chandigarh Union Territory administration has declared a holiday in its offices on Friday. "His body will be kept in the Rock Garden on Saturday to enable people to pay their last respects. The family is waiting for his daughter to return from abroad. The cremation will take place Saturday evening," Chandigarh's Additional Home Secretary S B Deepak Kumar told PTI.
The Padma Shri awardee, whose 90th birthday was celebrated by the Chandigarh Administration and the City residents on December 15, had millions of fans across the globe.
Working as a roads inspector of the Public Works Department in Punjab from 1951, Nek Chand had quietly built his magical kingdom clearing a little forest patch near the famous Sukhna lake here to create a small garden.
Waste like broken crockery, electrical fittings, glass bangles, bathroom tiles, wash basins and bicycle frames were used to make mosaic sculptures of men, women, animals and gods.
The iconic Rock Garden, inaugurated in 1976, is now spread over an area of forty acres and more than 2.5 lakh people from India and abroad visit it every year with the annual revenue generated from ticket sales around Rs 1.8 crore.
Nek Chand's unique art has also been showcased in museums abroad, including at the National Children's Museum in Washington. Forty of Nek Chand's figurative mosaic sculptures will reportedly be on exhibition at historic Chichester in West Sussex in Britain.
Nek Chand's son Anuj Saini, who helped him in maintaining the Rock Garden, was by his side when he passed away at Post-Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research.
Born at Shakargarh, now in Pakistan, Nek Chand and his family settled in Punjab after Partition.
In his spare time, Nek Chand, who was working at that time as government roads inspector, began collecting materials from demolition sites around the city. He recycled these materials into his own vision, toiling away secretly in the dead of the night riding on bicycle to the jungle for close to two decades to create the marvel.
But the artist initially had a tough time to save his creation. When it was first discovered in 1975, the authorities threatened it with demolition, claiming it had violated strict planning laws that protected Le Corbusier’s 'City Beautiful', where everything had to be a part of the master plan.
According to the Chand's Foundation, many politicians had then demanded Rock Garden's destruction as an illegal development. Others, following public opinion, ensured that the Rock Garden became a well funded public park.
Nek Chand was relieved of his duties and given a salary to continue with the expansion of the Rock Garden with the title 'Creator-Director'. In addition, the city authorities funded a force of labourers to help install all his sculptures in the mosaic courtyards. In 1997, the Nek Chand Foundation, a registered charity, was formed with the aim of supporting the artist's work and raising awareness about the garden world-wide.
Nek Chand's ninetieth birthday in December 2014 was celebrated with great enthusiasm by the people and Chandigarh Administration. To mark the occasion, crowds had gathered at the Rock Garden for organised festivities at which Nek Chand was greeted by well-wishers and he had cut a big cake specially made for the occasion.
For the past more than 15 years, international volunteer groups had been visiting and working at the Rock Garden, completing a wide variety of tasks including large-scale mosaic work, as well as forming important connections with Rock Garden staff and visitors. The garden is maintained by the Nek Chand Foundation.
Picture courtesy: Iain Jackson/Nek Chand Foundation