Chandigarh - Our City Beautiful

Chandigarh: The Story Of India's First Model City

India had for over 200 years been forcibly led on a path of modernization, colonial style. With independence she was free to choose what she wanted. Chandigarh was one such choice - a monument to the new national self-awareness..

The development of Chandigarh represented a fascinating study of practical politics, personal ambitions of politicians and planners, and the high ideals of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the planner Le Corbusier.

An area of 28,000 acres identified as the site for what would be Chandigarh, was visible from the top of a small hill at the village Chandi Mandir. Hence the name ‘Chandigarh’. Chandi-garh means the abode/stronghold of Chandi, who is a manifestation of Shakti, the ubiquitous female principle in the Hindu cosmogony. As time proceeds through its inevitable and recurrent circles of creation and destruction, Chandi is the energy, the enabling force of transformation and change.

Historical Significance

The construction of Chandigarh was to represent the new upbeat spirit that the country experienced in the aftermath of the partition. Chandigarh was designed as a modern town much before transcending modernism became a fashion.

The new capital city of Punjab also represented India's pride and best urban hopes for the future. It was to serve as a training school for Indian planners, who could then replicate their experience in other cities to improve communication systems and raise economic standards. It was to rehabilitate refugees and the displaced Punjab government, to restore the dignity of the Indian Punjabi damaged by partition and the loss of Lahore.

“Let this be a new town, symbolic of the freedom of India, unfettered by the traditions of the past. An expression of the nation's faith in the future”, and “the site chosen is free from the existing encumbrances of old towns and old traditions. Let it be the first large expression of our creative genius flowering on our newly earned freedom”, said Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru in July 1950.

The whole area of 28,000 acres identified as the site for what would be Chandigarh, was visible from the top of a small hill at the village Chandi Mandir. Hence the name ‘Chandigarh’.

Today, in 2022, Chandigarh is a bustling contemporary Indian city on the foothills of Shivalik, a Union Territory, and the capital city of two large Indian States – Punjab and Haryana, with 1.12 million people living in the openness of spirits, friendship, and solidarity.

Chandigarh - A Historical Timeline

Partition of India 1947

[With Lahore now in Pakistan with West Punjab, East Punjab (Now in India) needed a new Capital City]

Chandigarh is Born 1948

Govt. of Punjab, in consultation with Govt. of India, selected the site for Chandigarh in the Kharar tehsil of Ambala District comprising of 28,000 acres of land in fifty-eight villages with a population of 21,000 people or 6,228 families

[The number of landholders affected by the decision was 6,807, out of which 91 percent, or 6,215 possessed less than 10 acres of land. Only 16 landholders possessed more than 50 acres.]

Resistance 1948-50

Resistance to the idea of Chandigarh in the first phase lasted from the spring of 1948 when the acquisition of land was announced, to approximately 1950 when the actual possession of the land began, and alternative land offered in compensation. The second phase, marked by sporadic protest, lasted through the 1950s as and when the land of a village was actually occupied by the government.

The people’s resistance to displacement was formalized in the anti-Rajdhani1 committee that was formed in 1948 with a promise to launch a satyagraha involving over 30,000 people all over the state to stop the construction of Chandigarh.

Architects of the City 1951

By 1951, a design for the city had already been planned by Albert Mayer, a prominent American architect, but after the death of Mathew Nowicki, Mayer's architect colleague, the Govt.

transferred the control to Le Corbusier and his associates. The majority of the buildings within the city (other than those developed privately) were designed by Pierre Jeanneret, Maxwell Fry, and Jane Drew, assisted by a design team of nine Indian architects and planners.

Capital of the Punjab (Development and Regulation) Act Passed 1952

Punjab's chief minister, Gopichand Bhargava, hoped that Chandigarh would be "the world's most charming capital.

The Official Capital 1953

The capital city was officially shifted from Shimla to Chandigarh on 21 September 1953, though Chandigarh was formally inaugurated by India's first president, Rajendra Prasad on 7 October 1953

Construction of a symbolic City 1954-1965

Le Corbusier and his associates worked on the construction of Chandigarh from 1951 until his death in 1965. In 1965 M.N. Sharma took over from Pierre Jeanneret as the first Indian Chief Architect of the Project.

The metaphor of a human being was being employed in the plan – the ‘head’ contained the capital complex, the ‘heart’ the commercial centre, and the ‘arms’, which were perpendicular to the main axis, had the academic and leisure facilities. The plan incorporated Le Corbusier’s principles of light, space and greenery. What had been named an “Urban Village” in Mayer’s plan, Le Corbusier renamed a “Sector”.

The Open Hand Monument 1965

A representation of the character of the city, standing for prosperity, unity, and peace, “the hand to give and the hand to take” stood with La Corbusier since 1948 was finally added 20 years after his death in the Capitol Complex of Chandigarh in 1985.

A New Punjab 1966

On 18 September 1966, the Punjab Reorganization Act was passed by the Indian Parliament, dissolving the former state of East Punjab. Out of the former East Punjab, the modern state of Punjab was created, the new state of Haryana was created; territory was transferred to Himachal Pradesh, then a Union territory; and the city of Chandigarh became a temporary Union territory to serve as the provisional capital of both the Punjab and Haryana

A Post-Colonial Capital 1970

on January 29, 1970, Prime Minister Gandhi awarded Chandigarh to Punjab and, as compensation, sanctioned rupees 200 million (half in outright grant) for Haryana to build its new capital city. Chandigarh was given a new constitutional entity as a union territory, and control over the city administration shifted from the Punjab government to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.

Today: A City Lost in Translation 1970

Jawaharlal Nehru's death on May 27, 1964, soon followed by Le Corbusier's death on August 27, 1965, robbed the city of its two most ardent supporters. With the departure of Pierre Jeanneret in December 1965, the city was left with no individual who could advocate the convictions of its creators above the din of petty political considerations. The political tug of war between Punjab and Haryana over Chandigarh has caused the city architecture and initial vision to divert away from its original Master Plan and is now imploding with livable capacity, loss of green cover and other ecological issues that were never meant to be.