Indian Heritage Centre

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I visited the new Indian Heritage Centre, whose shiny, gleaming façade towers over the neighborhood’s historic and colorful shophouses on Campbell Lane and Clive Street, on Saturday. The museum traces the history of the South Asian communities of Singapore and Southeast Asia, and I have been curious as to the stories it would choose to tell for some time.

The permanent collection, housed on Levels 3 and 4, is divided into five chronological themes. The “Early Contact: Interactions Between South and Southeast Asia, 1 B.C.E – 19th Century” galleries, which illustrate thousands of years of trade and cultural relationships between these two regions of Asia, covers much of the same ground that the Asian Civilisation Museum does. Dr. Gauri Krishnan, the centre’s Director, was previously curator of the South Asian collection at the Asian Civilisation Museum in Singapore, so perhaps this is no surprise.

Other galleries—organized under the themes “Roots and Routes: Origins and Migrations, 19th Century – 21st Century,” “Pioneers: Early Indians in Singapore and Malaya, 19th Century – Mid-20th Century,” and “Social and Political Awakening of Indians in Singapore and Malaya, Mid-20th Century”—are a straight and factual, if cursory, introduction to the history of Indian and South Asian communities in Singapore and Southeast Asia. Of note are artifacts gathered via donations and loans from Singapore’s South Asian community (nearly 450 items), which are joined by other significant artifacts from the National Collection as well as those gifted or loaned by the Government of India and the British Library.

The final gallery, “Making of the Nation: Contributions of Indians in Singapore, 1950 – 1980” showcases the contributions of South Asian Singaporeans in creating the modern nation-state, a rather one-dimensional, celebratory treatment. The choice to end this narrative in 1980 and not tell the the story of today is an unfortunate one, but a “pragmatic” one, I suppose. “Heritage” in Singapore is rarely recognized as active, changing, and evolving. Also in these galleries, it is made stark how few South Asian women have held positions of power in independent Singapore, outside of the domestic and community spheres. Not one South Asian Singaporean woman is represented in the fields of government, law, business, the literary arts, science/medicine, or media in a wall mural highlighting prominent Singaporeans.

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The Indian Heritage Centre is free to the public for the month of May in conjunction with the Centre’s inaugural “Culture Fest.” The festival will showcase, over the month, the arts and culture of the South Asian community through performing arts, workshops, lectures, and film screenings. On Saturday, I caught an awesome Panchavadyam troupe from Kerala, and participated in a number of South Asian-themed arts and crafts. I will definitely be returning to the Indian Heritage Centre for more performances this month, including three Carnatic and Hindustani music concerts.

Why You Should Visit Singapore’s Little India Now at Serious Eats

DSC_069120150413-fifth-season-momos-pooja-makhijani.jpg I’m over at Serious Eats, a site with “a democratic yet scientific approach to cooking the best dishes, busting food myths, and delivering strong opinions on what you should eat next, where, when, and why,” with my guide to best experience all the vibrant foods that make Singapore’s Little India special.

An excerpt:

When I first moved from New York City to Singapore, it was in Little India, a neighborhood to the east of the metropolis’s Central Business District, not an American expatriate enclave, that I found an escape from homesickness. It was here that I heard the melodies of familiar languages and ate familiar foods, dishes that my family has cooked and eaten in both the Old World and the New.

Serangoon Road, the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, has been for centuries a commercial and community space for immigrants from the Subcontinent. Indians were among the first migrants to Singapore in the early 19th century, and Singapore was part of a larger interlocking colonial network, the hub of which was India.

The area continued to develop as the center of South Asian life (largely Hindu and Tamil speaking), as a focal point for a new migration, and as a growing commercial center. The name “Little India,” is a Singapore Tourism Board (STB) concoction—the moniker was not used until the 1980s. That was when Singapore’s Urban Redevelopment Authority earmarked Little India as a conservation area and STB demarcated the neighborhood as a cultural heritage tourism area. Today, the neighborhood is a religious and cultural hub for the South Asian community, both local and foreign, as well as a major tourist destination.

Food is the neighborhood’s choice commodity, yet few travel guides detail the rich and unique cuisines found in Little India. Where else can you find the authentic tastes of the entire Subcontinent in the area of less than one square mile? The flavors found in Little India are the real deal and not watered down for Western palates; the neighborhood’s restaurants cater to this city’s large, diverse and discerning South Asian population.

Continue reading “Why You Should Visit Singapore’s Little India Now.”

Durga Puja 2012

We spent our rainy Sunday afternoon in Little India, kicking off the Hindu festive season. It is navrathri (literally “nine nights”), a festival dedicated to the worship of the nine avatars of the Goddess Durga.

Durga is the ferocious protector of the righteous and destroyer of evil. She is usually portrayed as riding a lion and carrying weapons in her many arms.”According to lore, the Goddess Durga spends the whole year caring for her husband, Lord Shiva, in the Himalayas. But for four golden days in autumn, she returns to her parents’ house, accompanied by her children, an occasion that mortals celebrate with pomp and pageantry.

Durga Puja, which commences on the seventh day of navrathri, is the biggest, most important religious festival for Bengali-Hindus. Apparently, the Bengali Association Singapore‘s six-day celebration, which began on Friday, is the largest outside Kolkata (Calcutta)!

If you are keen on seeing the magnificent idol (above), the celebration continues until Wednesday, October 24 on the grounds along Race Course Road, not far from Little India MRT Station.

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We were woefully underdressed. Really, truly, embarrassingly underdressed. I should have worn my favorite Kantha (embroidered) silk sari and adorned myself in all sorts of gold baubles. Ah, well. Now, I know for next year!

Happy Diwali!

This is the first year in as long as I can remember that we haven’t been “home” for Diwali or Deepavali (as it is known in North and South India respectfully). This new year, we’re not opening gifts, eating gulab jamuns, dressing up, or placing tiny clay lamps along our walkway and driveway so that Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, can find her way to our home.

Though we are thousands of miles from the United States, it’s utterly delightful to live in a country where Diwali is a national holiday, where you don’t have to explain why you need a day (or more) off to spend time with family and friends, where cab drivers hand you your change and wish you, “Happy Deepavali.”

The photographs above were taken at the Deepavali Festival Market in Little India, an incredible, and incredibly crowded, bazaar selling everything from sparklers to saris, from mithai to mehndi.

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A Diwali greeting from me to you: I wish you infinite happiness and boundless creativity in the new year!

(This post has been entered into the Grantourismo HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.)