Manges Eravanan | May 25, 2013
Isn’t it strange that Little India Singapore, the distinctly ‘Indian” area, has European road names like Campbell Lane and Dunlop Street? That is because Little India was originally the playground of the British. So how did the Indians get to Singapore? What’s the story behind this Little India Singapore mystery? Why is the place also known as Tekka? Read on to find out.
As you walk along the bustling streets of Little India, it is hard to miss the rich Indian ‘flavor’ of the area. The sight of Indian jewelers displaying their designs, the phenomenal fragrance of freshly tied jasmine garlands or the iconic Tekka market- you will undoubtedly experience a dose of India in this unique part of Singapore. Yet, looking at signboards of streets meandering out of central Serangoon Road, you have to wonder how Race Course Road, Cuff Road or Clive Street could possibly have been Indian. Like all great histories, there is a story behind this mystery that we are going to share with you now!
Let’s travel back in time for a bit…
The year is 1828, and Indian convicts are laying the final touches to the end of the road they are building – Serangoon Road. Little did they know then that they were in fact laying the foundations to the home of their people that would take shape almost a century later. By 1836 the areas we know today as Race Course Road, Jalan Besar, Balestier Road and Lavender Street were ready and you will not believe what drew the crowds in droves to the area initially!
Attractive Arabian Stallions, Jubilant Jockeys and Excited Spectators spurring on their favorite horses… Yep! You got it! True to its name, Race Course Road was in fact a confluence of the wealthy and maybe not so wealthy British colonialists who loved to indulge in their hobby for horses! In fact, some streets in Little India Singapore are actually named after prominent figures in the horse racing circle. Dunlop Street for example was named after Mr. A.E. Dunlop who was the secretary and an active member of the Race Course committee in the 1840s.
So how did the Indians get here?
Water and Grass (and I mean the kind that grows in fields)! That is what initially got South Asians into Little India. The abundant grass and water supply from Rochor Canal attracted Indian cattle-traders to ‘set up shed’ here. With the cows came the people who tended to them. The first Indians in Little India of today had arrived! Laundrymen, food suppliers and prison employees from the convict goal on Bras Basah Road soon joined the cattle ranchers in the area.
How did the ubiquitous ‘Tekka’ label come to be associated with Little India then? The answer – Bamboo Clumps! The Chinese residing in the Kandang Kerbau area affectionately termed the area ‘Tek Kia Kah’ which was shortened to (Tek Kah) to reflect the rich bamboo bushes that were growing on either side of the Rochor Canal.
Over the next century, World War II restricted Indians from returning to India and political changes started segmenting races to certain geographical areas. A total revamp of the vicinity resulted in Indians in Singapore to firmly plant their roots in Little India and start calling it home!
So back in the present – what is Little India like? Things to do in Little India?
You name it and you will get it! I have challenged myself time and again to name something I cannot buy at Little India and have come up empty. With the famous Mustafa Centre located along Syed Alwi Road, anything and everything is available 24 hrs a day now!
Indian garb from Saris to Kurtis, Sherwanis to Singlets, accessories to adorn you from head to toe, Indian food from all corners of India as well as China and France are all a stone’s throw from each other in Little India. Want to buy top-notch cameras and electronics? You’ll be spoilt for choice in Little India! Prices are low and goods have quality… What more could an avid shopper ask for?
Need to trim those eyebrows? Want to get a ‘Golden Glow’ on your face? Dying for a relaxing massage after a long day on your feet? Little India is the answer to all your needs! Numerous beauty parlors have asserted their presence along the streets of Little India Singapore in recent times and it’s an understatement to say you will be overwhelmed by choices! Another great new development is the recent emergence of Ayurvedic Centers in the area so now you can get your dose of herbal healing and relaxation at amazingly affordable prices too!
Shophouses, Temples, Mosques, Churches and the Colonial Past. Owing to the amazing preservation works undertaken by the Singapore Government to maintain the historic remnants of Little India, we can get a glimpse of the glorious past of Serangoon Road. Must see attractions include the colorful home along Belilios Lane of Mr. L.R. Belilios, an esteemed Jewish cattle-trader who commanded a great share of the cattle industry in Little India, Sri Veerama Kaliamman Temple along Serangoon Road, Abdul Gaffoor Mosque along Dunlop Street and our Lady of Lourdes Church along Ophir Road. There are also many other secrets spots of interests to amaze you!
Little India is an amazing enclave of all things Indian and with its rich history and glorious present. Indeed, it is a place you must not miss in Singapore and I’ve barely brushed the surface!
Historical Photos Courtesy:
Siddique, Sharon & Puru Shotam, Nirmala, Singapore’s Little India: past, present and future, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1990. p.18 -24
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