The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, October 12, 2003
Lead Article

What’s that writing on the wall?
Indu S. Bedi

A sketch of the Open Hand drawn by Le Corbusier
A sketch of the Open Hand drawn by Le Corbusier

AT the entrance of the Rose Garden stands an important city monument which not many know about!

The Edict of the city, formally inscribed in grey stone.

A legacy left behind by city’s planners in the optimistic belief that alert citizens would turn out to be the best guardians of the ‘planned wonder town’ that they had created. The lamentable fact is that, leave alone awareness on the vital content of this monument, even the edict’s existence would come as a surprise to Chandigarh’s public. The edicts is sadly paying the cost of the slight oversight on the part of the planners, which prevented them from choosing the bustling Sector 17 Central Plaza as its site. But it is common sense that any set of rules would be helpful only if people are aware about it. Says a line of the edict, "The seed of Chandigarh is well sown. It is for the citizens to see that the tree flourishes." According to the architect of the Rose Garden Edict and Capitol Project Chief Architect M. N. Sharma, "The Edict and the Statuette were designed to direct and serve as guidelines to necessitate whatever changes are needed with passage of time." The object of the edict, according to planners, is to enlighten the present and future citizens of the city about the basic concepts of its planning so that they become its guardians and save it from whims of individuals.


For his edict, Corbusier probably sought inspiration from history; the only difference being, as against moral or religious advice in ancient edicts, his rock inscription dwelt on town management. It was the practice in ancient times to inscribe codes of conduct on rocks. Hammurabi did this in 2100 B.C. The Greek king Darius followed this practice. So did Emperor Ashoka after his conversion to Buddhism. Ashoka’s numerous edicts containing moral diktats were carved on stone pillars and on the sides of large rocks throughout India. In fact, in all these cases, it was a public command or ordinance by the sovereign power, the proclamation of a law by an absolute authority. By the very act of its announcement, an edict was considered a decree. Chandigarh’s edict in rock is unique in India with no other city having such an elaborate diktat for city management spelt out and put up in a public place.

He was of the feeling that with socio economic changes, the city would need changes too. His only instruction to those working with him was that all these changes should be well directed. It is for this reason that he wrote the Statuette of Land, whereby the Edict of Chandigarh was derived.

Although we might never have spared a thought to the existence of such "conscious checks" in the city, an extraordinary achievement of the Edict has been that there are no Personal statues erected in Chandigarh. Not even that of Mahatma Gandhi. On this issue, the edict clearly prohibits personal statues by the words ‘the age of personal statues is gone. No personal statues shall be erected in the city or parks of Chandigarh. The city is planned to breathe the new sublime spirit of art and commemoration of persons shall be confined to suitably placed bronze plaques. ‘Although at times people have tried putting up statues of leaders — there was the Ambedkar Bhavan row over installing a statue of Dr Ambedkar, but eventually it’s been the edict of the land that has overruled.

Besides a mention of the cellular model of ‘sectors’, classification of ‘roads’ into the 7Vs, city centre’ being a pedestrian’s paradise, ‘the Lake’ being an area of tranquility, and only electricity-driven industries allowed in ‘Industrial Area’, here you find some commonly unheard of concepts like ‘Human Scale’. Says the Edict, ‘The city is planned to Human Scale and aimed to put us in touch with the infinite cosmos and nature. It provides us with places and buildings for all human activities by which citizens can live a full and harmonious life. Here the radiance of nature and heart are within our reach.’

The edict also mentions that architectural and zoning controls are operative in ‘city’s areas of special architectural interest’, besides placing guidelines on ‘Landscaping’. Says the edict, In future planting and replacements...original landscaping principles must be kept in view. There should be no haphazard replacements, so that the avenues retain their harmony and beauty. Another concept in the edict is on the truthfulness of materials of construction — concrete, bricks and stone, shall be maintained in all buildings constructed or to be constructed.

In the past 20-25 years things have taken a turn for the worst in the city, mainly due to its residents’ cold apathy to its affairs, is the general feeling. What’s needed today is that citizens should play a more active role in the city as was envisioned by its creators during its inception. "It’s not only active participation that we need for keeping the city’s modern spirit intact, but we also need proactiveness," says Sharma, "for instance try and get UNESCO to consider Chandigarh for the status of a heritage city. It’s already the best model of modern urban architecture globally, and probably deserves the modern heritage town status more than any other place.

And if it does get the tag, we might feel more inclined to give it back its rightful due—our Attention.