My City, My Heritage, My Chandigarh

Chandigarh, the first planned city of post-Independence India, is known internationally for its architectural marvels, especially the Brutalist institutional buildings designed by the legendary Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. The city, spanning 114 sq km, has a population of 9,70,602, according to the 2011 census. This young city has grown and made its mark nationally in different spheres like culture, heritage, politics and education. As the capital city of two states - Punjab and Haryana - and a Union Territory looked after by the Central Government, Chandigarh holds a unique significance among Indian cities. The Chandigarh Metropolitan Region encompasses the city of Chandigarh along with Mohali and Panchkula. 

Situated 240 km from Delhi in the foothills of the Shivalik range, Chandigarh was conceived as a new capital for the state of Punjab, which had lost its erstwhile capital city of Lahore to Pakistan following the Partition of 1947. In 1966, it also became the capital of the newly formed state of Haryana, and a Union Territory. The city was a dream project of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. He envisioned the city to represent modern India, embracing the future resolutely. In his 1951 declaration of Chandigarh, Nehru proclaimed, “Let this be a new town, symbolical of the freedom of India, unfettered by the traditions of the past, an expression of the nation’s faith in the future....” Some 36 sq km of land was earmarked for the new city in 1948 by a committee headed by Chief Engineer P.L. Verma, and the city itself was named after a Chandi (a form of Shakti) temple at the site. 

Initially, American city-planner and architect Albert Mayer had started to plan the city, but after he withdrew from the project, the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier was brought on board in 1951. Chandigarh took shape under the experienced eyes of Corbusier and fellow architects Pierre Jeanneret, Jane B. Drew, and Maxwell Fry. Young Indian architects like M.N. Sharma, A.R. Prabhawalkar and B.P Mathur were also part of the team. 

Le Corbusier visualised the city as a built representation of the human body, with different sections of the city serving the citizens in a way analogous to the functions of body parts. He imagined Sector 1 as the head of the body with the Capitol Complex boasting of the Legislative Assembly, the Secretariat, and the High Court representing the three pillars of Democracy- the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. One also finds the Open Hand Monument in the Capitol Complex ground. Corbusier chose the ‘Open Hand’ as the symbol for Chandigarh, signifying ‘giving and receiving,’ an openness which for him was the basis for a modern democracy. Sector 17 was the heart of the city with the shops, plaza, business centres, cinemas and bus terminus encouraging a plethora of economic, social, and cultural activities. The Pleasure Valley consisting of numerous parks and gardens acted as the lungs, while seven types of streets made up the circulation system of the city. 

Chandigarh is home to Corbusier’s Capitol Complex - an epitome of the Modernist architectural aesthetic, Jeanneret’s Gandhi Bhavan, a structure where Modernism meets Gandhian philosophy, and Nek Chand’s Rock Garden, an ode to innocence, imagination, and lost memory made with discarded bits and pieces. The state’s academic and intellectual life thrives at the Panjab University campus, designed largely by Pierre Jeanneret. The city is dotted with an array of gardens with different blooms, while the Sukhna Lake at one end of the city increases its beauty manifold. The pre-Independence town of Manimajra at Sector 13 and the Mughal garden at Pinjore, Panchkula establish the importance of this region even in the pre-modern era. The city, being a gateway to Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh, attracts a lot of tourists and is a major shopping hub. Handlooms, handicrafts, and cuisines from these three states are major attractions for visitors to Chandigarh. The annual National Crafts Mela facilitates interactions between craftspersons and artisans of various states and buyers.