Tuesday, 1 March 2011


“We're living in a time when the world has suddenly discovered India because it’s run out of raw material for its imagination. The raw materials for imagination are inexhaustible here.” - Deepak Chopra

Today we visited Little India, which is one of Singapore’s most colourful and exotic neighbourhoods. The classic shopping arcade of Little India is located on Serangoon Road and was built in 1828. Immediately one enters this district, the sights, sounds and smells are immediately evocative of India. Arts, handicrafts, clothing, carpets, fabrics, food, jewellery, music, films, spices, flowers and flower garlands, sweets, all are to be found here and of course they are all Indian and transport one to the country of their origin.

Ten per cent of the permanent Singaporean population is Indian, most of them from the southern part of the subcontinent. This thriving community has become very successful in business and there are some very rich Indians amongst the well-to-do Singaporeans. However, when one walks down the street, many of the menial workers and labourers are also Indians. These may not be permanent residents, but rather guest workers, of which there are several hundred thousand in Singapore.

At Serangoon Road where Belilios Road crosses it, stands the Hindu Temple of “Sri Veerama Kaliamman” constructed in 1881. This temple is quite an amazing sight, as the colourful façade and roof are intricately decorated with all of the gods of the Indian pantheon. It is really worth a visit if you go to Little India. There are other temples of course, like the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple built in 1855 and designated a national Singaporean monument. This is located on upper Serangoon Road. A block up northeast on Race Course Road stands the Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple. Here one finds hundreds of lightbulbs surrounding an enormous 50-feet high statue of the Buddha. Another temple is Leong San Buddhist Temple, which was constructed in 1800s and is rated as one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples in Singapore.

Heading up Serangoon Road through Kitchener Road takes one to Central Serangoon Road where many Indian cafes, clothing shops, and hardware stores are to be found. Some of the highlights are the Asian Women’s Welfare Association building located at 9 Norris Road, which was established in 1935. It is an interesting mixture of Art Deco, North Indian, and Chinese-inspired fish-scale designs. The Gandhi Memorial was dedicated by Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1950 and is situated behind the Broadway Hotel. A modern S$48 million dollar shopping complex located at Serangoon and Syed Alwi Roads is also worth seeing.

Going towards the East, one enters the Arab Quarter. The atmosphere here changes to one evoking the middle east, Arabia and Moslem world. The Arab community has been settled here even prior to the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles. Arab merchants were monopolising Malaysia and Singapore for hundreds of years, and the links are forged very strongly. The Sultan Mosque is one of the highlights and it can be found between Bencoolen and Arab Streets. It was built by the Swan & MacLaren in 1924. Arab Street and the Bussorah Street mall are definitely worth lingering as the air reeks of the Arabian Nights and the fragrance of incense, perfume and spice.

This Muslim centre of Singapore is a traditional textile district, full of batiks from Indonesia, silks, sarongs and shirts. Add to this mix rosaries, flower essences, hajj caps, songkok hats, basketware and rattan goods, and you have a fair idea of the products haggled over in this part of the city. The grand Sultan Mosque is the biggest and liveliest mosque in Singapore, but the tiny Malabar Muslim Jama-ath Mosque (built in 1819) is the most beautiful. There’s fine Indian Muslim food along nearby North Bridge Rd and the foodstalls on Bussorah St are especially atmospheric at dusk during Ramadan. Gemstones and jewelry of all kinds are to be found in the Golden Landmark shopping centre, very close to the Sultan Mosque.

We also visited another sacred place in this area, the Old Malay Cemetery recorded as the oldest Malay cemetery, which unfortunately is note very well looked after and going to ruin. A pity as it is evocative of old times and has the atmosphere of a lost city in the jungle, so overgrown is it with greenery, although surrounded by busy thoroughfares.

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