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Issue 02 | February 2013

The Little India Issue

The Straits Heritage “Part wet market, part food centre and part shopping mall. ” Tekka Market Pg 03

“One of the last surviving Chinese Villas in Little India.” Restored & Conserved Pg 06

The Little India Issue

“Must have helped these pioneers feel more at home.” Places of Worship Pg 07

The Little India Issue

C ON T E N TS Overview




Tekka Market


Serangoon Road




Places of Worship


The Little India Issue


Exotic aromas, vibrant colours A cacophony of car horns, bicycle bells and vibrant chatter of its residents, Little India is one of the most vibrant and culturally authentic districts of Singapore. Take in the sights, sounds and smell as you immerse yourself in an authentic Indian experience. Little India is Singapore’s foremost Indian enclave. Its charm lies in the fact that many of olden-day trades can still be found by its roadsides, alleys and back lanes. Fortune-tellers and their parrots, flower vendors selling garlands of jasmine, kachang puteh (roasted nuts) sellers on pushcarts and street-side newspaper vendors are just some of the interesting sights to be found. In the early 1840s, Little India became a residential area for the Europeans as a result of the completion of the Race Course, which became a focal point for this community. Since the first 2-day race on 23 and 25 February 1842, the Europeans would turn up at what is now Farrer Park Road in droves. Dressed to their finest, they would watch their countrymen compete on horses they had trained

themselves. At the same time, cattle trading began to blossom due to its location along the Serangoon River. The aforementioned I.R. Belilios was one of those whose cattle business thrived. Several road names in the district today, such as Buffalo Road and Kerbau Road (kerbau is Malay for buffalo), are evidences to this period. As the Indian community continued to grow, a corresponding demand for goods and services that could cater to their specific needs rose. Similarly, there was a need for places of worship. One such place is the famous Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple located at 141 Serangoon Road, which was built in 1855. Also built in that year was the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, which is located between Race Course Road and Serangoon Road. To add to the diversity of the social landscape, the Angullia family who came from Surat, India made their wealth in the import and export business and built another famous landmark along Serangoon Road called the Angullia Mosque in 1890. In the early 20th century, the cattle

trade began to die out as swamps, essential to the rearing of cattle, were drained to facilitate the building of roads and structures. That period also saw the original Tekka Market being constructed. It was built in 1915, opposite the site of the current Tekka Market, which is today a landmark of Little India. The 1960s and 1970s saw many Indians moving out of Little India as they found housing either in the newly built HDB public housing or private estates. This was especially so with the clearance of slum in the 1970s. Thus, Little India became more of a centre of commerce for Indians all across Singapore. In the 1980s, several public housing projects in the area were completed, including those of Zhujiao Centre and Rowell Court. In 1989, Little India’s significance as a part of Singapore history was recognized when it was gazetted as a conservation site.

Did you know? Several streets in Little India bear the names of personalities who once lived in the area. For instance, Dunlop Street and Clive Street bear the names of the European families who came to stay there in the early 1840s. Belilios Lane and Belilios Road were named after the Calcuttaborn I.R. Belilios, who made his name there in cattle trading from the 1840s onwards.


The Little India Issue

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1) Tekka Market


2) Serangoon Road

3) Restored

4) Places of Worship

The Little India Issue

TEKKA MARKET All-in-one shopping splendour Part wet market, part food centre and part shopping mall, Tekka Centre is a place where several ethnic communities converge to create a multicultural shopping fiesta. The case of Tekka Centre is often used to illustrate the complexities of Chinese language romanisation in Singapore. The market was originally known as Kandang Kerbau (or just KK), Malay for “buffalo pens”, referring to the slaughterhouses operating in the area until the 1920s, and the name still lives on in the nearby Kandang Kerbau Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Kandang Kerbau Police Station and the Kandang Kerbau Post Office. In Hokkien, the market was known as Tek Kia Kha, literally meaning “foot of the small bamboos”, as bamboo plants once grew on the banks of the Rochor Canal. This was adapted into the popular name Tekka Pasar, where pasar is Malay for “market”. The original market was built in 1915, and was located across the street between Hastings Road and Sungei Road. When it was torn down in 1982 and relocated at its present site, the new multi-use complex was named Zhujiao Centre , the pinyin version of Tek Kia. However, to locals, especially non-Chinese, the new word Zhujiao was both hard to read and pronounce and bore no resemblance to Tekka. Eventually, the complex was officially renamed Tekka Centre in 2000 as it better reflected the history

of the place. The market was closed for a significant renovation in 2008, reopening in 2009. Little India’s first air-conditioned mall, Tekka Mall (later renamed The Verge), was built on the original site of the market in 2003. Today, Tekka Center remains a landmark in Little India, where dif ferent et hnic communit ies congregate. There are Chinese stallholders who speak Tamil, and vice versa. Shops sell traditional Indian costumes and inexpensive casual clothes. Some of the more notable shops include those selling Taoist and Buddhist paraphernalia, hardware shops, and tailors who can alter clothes in minutes. On the ground floor is a hawker centre with stalls which sell Indian vegetarian meals, served on banana leaves or on stainless steel platters, besides Chinese vegetarian, North Indian and Malay food. At the wet market stalls sell fresh seafood, especially crabs from Sri Lanka, and vegetables. There are also many Chinese stalls selling vegetables that are specially flown in from India. In terms of accessibility, the centre is served by the adjacent Little India MRT Station. There are also an underground car park and two taxi stands. Amenities nearby include The Verge and Little India Arcade.

Did you know? Color codes are followed in clothing based on the religion and ritual concerned. For instance, Hindus wear white clothes to indicate mourning while Parsis and Christians wear white to weddings.


The Little India Issue


The road leading across the island Serangoon Road is a large major thoroughfare, cutting right through Singapore’s Little India. It serves as the centre of commercial, cultural and religious activities for both the local and foreign Indian community in Singapore. It one of the earliest road built in Singapore, serving as a highway between the settlement in town and the Serangoon harbour in the northeast. Little India was not planned as a designated area for Indian community unlike Chinatown and Kampong Glam that had been set aside for the Chinese and Malay community respectively. However, it was the life around Serangoon Road that had led to the Indian community growing around it. Serangoon Road was described in an 1828 map of Singapore as “The Road Leading across the Island”. It was built to serve as a link 04

between the settlements in town and the Serangoon harbour, an important northeast harbour on the Johor Straits. The harbour provided access to the once lucrative lumbering and quarrying business in Pulau Ubin and Johor. During the 1820s, the area became an industrial area for brick kiln business and cattle farming which were run by mostly Indians. By 1826, thousands of Indians had come to Serangoon Road to work as construction workers and farmers. The majority of the Indians who came were either South Indian Muslims or middle caste Hindus. The first recorded brick kiln business in Singapore was said to have been established by an Indian, Narayana Pillai, who had come to Singapore in 1819. Cattle farmers were attracted to the area due to the presence of abundant water and grassland that

made it suitable for cattle farming. Subsequently, the kiln business and cattle farming was discontinued in the 1860s and in 1936 respectively by the government. Despite the closure of these industries, most of the Indians who came to work at Serangoon Road continued to reside there. By 1880, the Indian population had grown to a large number making the area recognisable as an enclave for the Indian community in Singapore. One of the unique features along this road is the architecture consisting mostly of terrace shophouses with highly decorative facades. They have features that reflect the period they were built, from early 1840s to 1960s. Another unique feature found on some of these buildings are its smooth surfaces. They were created using a traditional technique of external plasterwork: the Madras chunam, made of egg-white, shell, lime and sugar. This mixture was mixed together with coconut husks and water and plastered on the surface of buildings. Upon hardening, the surface was polished with crystal stones, creating a smooth finish.

One of Singapore’s earliest Hindu temples, the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, is located at 397 Serangoon Road. The temple was built in 1885 by Narasingham, who purchased the plot of land from the East India Company. Serangoon Road is currently part of a newly made conservation area that was gazetted on 7 July 1989 by the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore. The area still continues to be the hub for Indian community activities. It would become lively during the weekends and during religious festivals such as Thaipusam and Deepavali, when both tourists and locals would throng the street.

The Little India Issue


The Little India Issue

R E S TOR E D Tan Teng Niah Residence

Little India Arcade


A few Chinese businessmen decided to set up business in Little India following the success of the cattle trade. They were usually in the businesses of rattan works, pineapple factories, and rubber smokehouses. These industries may seem unrelated to the cattle trade in the area but there was a far-reaching commercial relationship which made sense. The wet environment of the area provided the abundant amounts of water which rattan works required. Recycled rattan by-products and the dregs of pineapple skins from the factories then went into the cattle feed. Bullock carts were readily available and that facilitated goods transportation such as rubber sheets prepared by the rubber smokehouses. Tan Teng Niah was one such owner of a rubber smokehouse and his legacy would continue to survive today at 37 Kerbau Road as the Residence of Tan Teng Niah. This house is one of the last surviving Chinese Villas in Little India. Built in 1900, this eight-room villa was built for Tan Teng Niah’s wife. Mr Tan was a

prominent Chinese businessman and owned a confectionery business and other smaller ones such as a few sweetmaking factories along Serangoon Road and a rubber smokehouse in Kerbau Road. He was one of the nonIndian communities who prospered in Little India. The villa has many interesting features such as a courtyard, gilded name plate with the calligraphic inscription “siew song” or Elegant Pine (the pine being a symbol of endurance), richly carved pintu pagar (decorative swinging doors), bamboo tiled roof and calligraphic scrolls hanging from the living room. The villa has been restored and has been leased for commercial use.

A bustling shopping area hidden in the heart of Singapore’s Indian district, the Little India Arcade is the place to go for authentic Indian food, music and fashion. More Mumbai or Delhi than Singapore, this cultural hub is arranged in carefully conserved shophouses which date back to the 1920s. It sells silk saris, gold jewellery, knick knacks, silverware, handicrafts, collectibles and other goodies from the Indian subcontinent. You’ll also find bargain electronics and traditional Indian clothing and souvenirs. Make sure you sample some of the scrumptious food on offer, like curry served on a banana leaf, which is among the best Indian cuisine available in Singapore. You can find two interesting plaques on the building’s pillars. One plaque is located on a pillar at the corner of Hastings Road and Serangoon Road. It refers to the people who came to work here from Kerala and Tamil Nadu and dates back to 1826

- 1827. It has an animal head which is believed to represent a cow or a buffalo. It serves as a reminder of the cattle trade activities in the area. The plaque is written in Tamil, one of the four official languages of Singapore. The second plaque is located on the pillar at the corner of Campbell Lane and Serangoon Road which dates to 1828. It refers to the ‘burning ground’ (probably refers to cremation) belonging to the “Hindoo people of Madras and Singapore.”

The Little India Issue

PL AC E S OF WOR SH I P Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple at 141,Serangoon Road is one of the oldest temples in Singapore. Built by Indian pioneers who came to work and live here the temple was the first in the serangoon area and became a focus of early Indian Social Cultural activities there. British Colonial government . The British administration outlined settlement patterns along ethnic lines and for the Indians this marked the beginning of the development of the Serangoon Road area as an Indian sector. As the migrant population grew, “Singapore’s Little India” began to attract more Indians from the nearby Market Street and Chulia Street areas. Many of these early

Indian settlers in the Serangoon Road area were involved in cattle - related activities. Around the middle of the 19th century, there were some 13,000 Indians in Singapore, largely many of whom must have been in or near the Serangoon area. It is not surprising, therefore, that the need for a place of worship in the area arose. Therefore, the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple was built to cater for hundreds of Indians who had come to live in a foreign land. Having a temple in their midst must have helped these pioneers feel more at home as it provided an important avenue for them to recreate in Singapore what they had been familiar

within their country of origin. The primary choice of the Sri Veeramakaliamman as the chief deity of the temple is significant. Referred as a powerful goddess and Destroyer of Evil, her presence answered an important need of the early migrants the need to feel secure in a new land.It seems that in the early days worship at the temple began at a small shrine with carvings and inscriptions. From these beginnings the temple was gradually built. According to one account, Hindu residents in the area helped to build the temple. According to a 1969 report by J.P.Milaret , Bengali workers were involved in the building of the early temple structures. However, there are no temple records which confirm this. From the temple’s earliest days it was associated with the Indian workers. In the old days, the temple came to be known as the “Soonambu Kambam Kovil”, that is, temple at the lime village. This was because many Indians who attended the temple worked in lime kilns in the area. (Lime formed part of the mixture that was used for buildings in those days). Many of the devotees were daily-rated workers of the Singapore Municipality.By the end of the 19th century there was daily worship and regular religious functions held at the temple. As the Indian population continued to grow, the temple was increasingly the focus of religious,social and other cultural activities. Initially there was a parttime ‘pujari’ to officiate at the temple. By the turn of the century, the amount collected from temple services and charity-box collections made it possible to engage a full-time priest. According to some oral history accounts , one of the first shrines at the temple was centered around a clay statue of an angry Sri Kaliamman, triumphant over evil . Over the years more shrines and rooms were added and the temple expanded. In 1908 a statue of the goddess was ordered from India for the deities’ central shrine in the temple. In the same year a shrine of the goddess Sri Peiyachi Amman was also built.Some nine years later shrines of Lord Ganesh and Lord Subramaniam were established .

In 1938 a chariot was bought. A large hall was added to the temple in 1953. Through the years the temple became more established. During the second world war when there were air raids, many took refuge in the temple and were safe there . The temple and those within escaped the bombings unscathed. The rebuilding of this historic monument began in October 1983. In the middle of August 1986 workmen came across several pieces of the temple’s old statues while digging in the what used to be the temple compound. According to the temple authorities these may be locally made statues which were at the temple before the more finely made ones from India began to arrive.At a cost of 2.2 million the new temple with its distinctive Gate-Tower, eight main Domes and several other minor ones, has taken three years to be built.


The Little India Issue


The Little India Issue

PL ACES OF WOR SH I P Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple The history of Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple dates back to the late 1800s when influential community leaders like Mr Arunachala Pillay, Mr Cootaperumal Pillay, Mr Ramasamy Pillay, Mr Appasamy Pillay, Mr Cho ckalingam Pillay and Mr Ramasamy Jamidar, all of whom had close working links with the East India Company, wanted to build a Hindu temple for Vaishnavite worship. These few men got together and purchased a piece of land measuring 2 acres 2 woods and 24 poles from the East India Company in 1851 for 26 rupees and 8 annas (at that period of time Indian currency was still used in the Settlement of Singapore). The temple they built in 1885 was referred

to as the Narasinga Perumal Kovil. Following the construction of the original temple structure, 2 adjoining parcels of land were later obtained for the temple’s needs. In 1894, devotees Mr Moona Sithumbaram Pillay and Mr Vinasithamby Murugesu purchased a 25,792 square feet piece of land which they donated to the temple. The second piece of adjoining land measuring 3,422 square feet was obtained by the Mohammedan Hindu Endowments Board, MHEB (under whose administration the temple was from 1907) from the East India Company on 15th August 1912 on a 999 year lease at an annual fee of 1 Straits Settlement dollar. The original temple structure remained unchanged until the early 1950s. In 1952, the MHEB decided to rebuild and reinstate the Temple. Redevelopment was only carried out in the early 1960s when well known Indian community leader and philanthropist Mr P. Govindasamy Pillay financed much of the works. Mr Pillay is credited with building the first two storey marriage hall within the temple. It was officially opened by Enche Yusoff Bin Ishak, the first president of Singapore on 19th June 1965. The present building minus the Pillaiyar sanctum, Rajagopuram (grand tower entrance) and the covered walkway were completed in 1966. At this juncture, many elders advised that the main deity of the

temple be changed from the imposing Sri Narasimha to the gracious Sri Srinivasa Perumal. The temple was thus renamed Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple. In 1979, Rajagopuram was erected. All costs for the entire construction and renovation works in the 1970s redevelopment phase were generously borne by Mr P Govindasamy Pillay. In 1978, Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple was declared a National Monument by the Preservation of Monuments Board. The temple underwent major facelifts in 1987, 1992 and 2005. During the different phases of redevelopment, improvements were made to meet imperative devotee needs. Visitors today can witness the painstaking efforts undertaken by the temple’s successive management committees to make sure that its conservation status was maintained. From well laid out sanctums, rich sculptural embellishments to an ornate mandapam (pillared pavillion) built for the worship of processional deities, these new features make the temple an embodiment of Hinduism. Some of the many major festivals celebrated here are Thaipusam, Navarathiri, Vaikunda Ekathesi and Purattasi Sani.

Did you know? Thaipusam is a highly symbolic Hindu festival celebrated by Singapore’s Tamil community. It is an annual procession by Hindu devotees seeking blessings, fulfilling vows and offering thanks. Celebrated in honour of Lord Subrahmanya (also known as Lord Murugan), who represents virtue, youth and power to Hindus and is the destroyer of evil, it is held during the full moon in the 10th Tamil month, called Thai, which falls in mid-January each year.


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