Chandigarh, India (2006, 2014)

I have welcomed very greatly one experiment in India: Chandigarh. Many people argue about it; some like it, some dislike it. It is the biggest example in India of experimental architecture. It hits you on the head and makes you think. You may squirm at the impact but it has made you think and imbibe new ideas, and the one thing which India requires in many fields is being hit on the head so that it may think. I do not like every building in Chandigarh. I like some of them very much. I like the general conception of the township very much but, above all, I like the creative approach, not being tied down to what has been done by our forefathers, but thinking in new terms, of light and air and ground and water and human beings.  [- Jawaharlal Nehru. Speech, 17 Mar 1959]

Chandigarh may well be India's greatest achievement in urban town planning. But despite Nehru's enthusiasm, and the evident success of the experiment, Indians seem to have learned nothing from it. Chandigarh ought to have become the harbinger for more planned cities. What came instead was unplanned urban sprawl, dispiriting shanties, and creaking infrastructure, punctuated now by gated enclaves built for the rich by a land-grabbing mafia of private developers.  That Chandigarh didn't inspire a hundred planned cities points to a colossal failure of the Indian imagination.

Plans for building the city began soon after Punjab was split into two in 1947. Pakistan was ceded the larger western part, including the Punjabi capital of Lahore, leaving the Indian Punjab without an administrative, commercial, or cultural capital. It was hoped that a grand new capital would become a symbol of modernity, heal the wounded pride of Indian Punjabis, and house thousands of Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan. Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier was commissioned to lead the city planning, aided by Indian architects and town planners. Construction began in the early 1950s, and much of the city was completed in the early 1960s.

Scenically located at the foot of the Himalayas, Chandigarh boasts a modern infrastructure, open spaces, greenery, cleanliness, and a relatively low population density. Divided into 46 rectangular sectors, numbered 1-12 and 14-47 (13 was deemed unlucky), most sectors have an area of nearly 250 acres and a housing capacity of about 15,000 people. Designed to be self-contained in civic amenities, the sectors are separated from each other by broad streets for the city's fast-moving arterial traffic. In the northeast is the artificial Lake Sukhna, a major recreational spot of the city. [Text in preceding two paragraphs adapted from Encyclopedia Britannica.]

Chandigarh is also an ancient Harappan site. In 1969, while digging for a shopping center in sector 17, a Harappan cemetery was unearthed. Remains include painted pottery (jars, dishes, goblets, vases, bowls, cups, beakers), terracotta figurines, beads, toy-cart frames, wheels, faience and copper bangles, stone querns, pestle and sling balls, etc. This, along with their Gandhara, Mughal, and Pahari art collections, makes Chandigarh's museums among of the best in India.

A wonderfully whimsical creation is Nek Chand's rock garden, made from building and industrial refuse. I'd seen it as a teen in 1983 but nothing quite prepared me for its expanded scale and the audacity of its creations when I went back in Sept 2006. I stayed in a hotel in sector 17, probably upon the still buried remains of an ancient Harappan settlement, part of a civilization best known to us for its urban town planning.  [—Namit Arora, 2006; Comment?]


Rose Garden (1, 2)

A tranquil spot inside

Advertising a magic show

Chandigarh City Museum

City Center Shopping, Sector 17

Chandigarh street

Taj Hotel

Rock garden visitor

Sukhna Lake (more)

An artificial lake (more)

Fed by rainwater

Amorous couple (1, 2)

Rock Garden: A Fantasy Created by Nek Chand

A landscaped sculpture
garden with a waterfall (1, 2)

Inaugurated in 1976

Made from scrap and other waste

Bottles, glass, bangles, tiles, ceramic
pots, sinks, electrical waste, etc.

(1, 2)


The rock garden pictures above were taken in Oct 2014, the ones below in Oct 2006.

Entrance gate

Nek Chand's former abode

Rock art


Pool (waterfall)

Swings (more)


Wall art

(1, 2)

(1, 2)


The Government Museum and Art Gallery

Designed by Le Corbusier

First hall

Phulkari textile art

Sculpted panels
1-3rd cent. CE, NW Frontier

Head of Tirathankara
2nd c. CE, Kushana Period

Bust of Mahavira
2nd c. CE, Kushana Period

1st c. CE, Kushana Period

2nd c. CE, Kushana Period

2nd c. CE, Kushana Period

Head of a Lady
4th-5th c. CE, Akhnoor

2nd c. CE, Sikrai (1, 2)

Standing Bodhisattva
2nd cent. CE, Sikrai

Five scenes from the life
of the Buddha
, 2nd c. CE

a. Buddha's visit to Indrasala cave

b. Buddha with devotees

c. Mara and associates come to
the Buddha in guise of farmers

d. Taming of elephant Nalagiri
by the Buddha

e. Buddha in company of Amrapali
and a representative of
Licchavi community

Scenes from Siddhartha's Life
3rd c. CE, NW Frontier Province

Dipankara Jataka
Late 2nd c. CE

Late 2nd c. CE

The Buddha
2nd c. CE

The Buddha
2nd c. CE

Army of Mara
2nd c. CE

The worshippers
2nd c. CE, Sikrai

2nd c. CE

Head of the Buddha
Late 2nd c. CE (more)

Hariti (more)

Seated Buddha 4th cent. CE,
NW Frontier Province

Amitabha preaching in Sukhavati heaven
Late 3rd c. CE, Muhammad Nari

The Jain Goddess

Railing pillars
2nd cent. CE, Kushana period

c. 12th c. CE, Kangra, H.P.

Parvati, Pala School
c. 11th c. CE, Bengal

Uma Maheshwara
c. 11th c. CE, Probably U.P.

Lady churning mild
Late 19th c. CE, South India

Palm leaf manuscript
18th c. CE, Orissa

A family on the move
Gouache on paper, Punjab Plains
c. 19th cent. CE

Hill women
Gouache on paper, Punjab Plains
c. 19th cent. CE

Ten Gurus
Water color on paper, Sikh school
Punjab Plains, Late 19th c. CE

Raja and Rani in dalliance
Gouache on paper, Pahari, Kangra
c. 18th cent. CE

Todi Ragini
Late 19th century, Jaipur

Todi Ragini
Late 19th century, Jaipur

Hunger Wood, SL Prasher

Harappan Site Density 

Ancient civilizations timeline

Harappan pots

Harappan seals

Harappan figurines

Harappan misc. objects

Harappan misc. objects

Harappan pottery (more)

Harappan script

Lothal dockyard (1, 2)
An artist's reconstruction

Male head (replica; more) Stone,
circa 2500 BCE Mohenjodaro

Male bust (replica) Stone,
circa 2500 BCE, Mohenjodaro

Chandigarh Natural History Museum

Designed by Le Corbusier

Evolution exhibit (1, 2)

Rajasaurus Narmadensis

Dinosaur gallery (habitat)


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