By Sherah Ndjongo
Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, opened the highly anticipated Indian Heritage Centre (IHC) at 5 Campbell Lane in Little India to the public on May 8. Before allowing public accessibility to the new museum, which cost twenty-one million dollars to create, a CultureFest that included outdoor film screenings, street airs, and incredible performances was launched. The CultureFest even brought together Singapore’s most prominent Bharatanatyam dancers and notable choreographers for the first time to perform the original and iconic Natya Darpana dance, which is meant to showcase the various Indian festivals celebrated in Singapore such as the Deepavali and the Thaipusam.
The Indian Heritage Centre is the result of seven years of construction, and hard work was required in order to achieve a perfect combination of modern architectural pieces with traditional Indian characteristics. This 3,090 square meter, four-story building was first proposed in 2008 and was subsequently approved by Lee Kuan Yew, the former founding Prime Minister, and Dr. Balaji Sadasivan, the late senior minister of state. What is interesting is that the center is divided into five themes that begin with the early interactions between South Asia and Southeast Asia and branch off into the emergence and movement of Indians from the 19th century to the 21st century. There is also a focus on contributions of early Indian pioneers in Singapore and Malaya, as well as the start of social and political awareness in the Indian community. The last display emphasizes the contributions of Indians in Singapore from the late 1950s to the 1980s.
What makes this heritage museum even more awe-inspiring is its fantastic collection of artifacts. There are 440 artifacts overall, and quite a number of the pieces have been acquired, donated, or are even on loan. On the display are jewelry, stone sculptures, costumes, wood carvings, and vintage suitcases that were actually owned by Indian immigrants. The artifact that stands out the most is a 3.4 meter tall wooden Chettinad doorway that is dated back to the late 19th century and is decorated with 5,000 minute carvings. The significance of this doorway is that is meant to commemorate the distinctive architectural style of South India’s Chettiar community, which had gained prosperity from its moneylending businesses across Southeast Asia. S.R. Nathan, Singapore’s sixth president, donated a variety of war-time publications from the 1940s, which give insight into the involvement of the region’s Indian community in the Indian National Army from the period when the army was fighting for independence from Britain.
This center is also very high-tech. It is one of the few permanent galleries in Singapore to use augmented reality and to introduce a virtual personal guide for visitors who they can be connected with through their mobile phones or the museum’s personalized handheld devices. The personal guides are responsible for giving visitors more information on the artifacts as they walk through the exhibitions. In addition to this, role-playing games and interactive touch screens are specialized features belonging to the gallery which visitors are welcome to take full advantage of.
The Indian Heritage Centre is the first museum in Southeast Asia devoted to showcasing the diverse cultural heritage of the Indian community. A Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and the chair of the Indian Heritage Centre’s steering committee, S. Iswaran, stated, “The IHC seeks to serve as a springboard for visitors to explore the rest of Little India.” As a result, admission to the Indian Heritage Centre is free for all Singapore residents and $4 for everyone else to encourage more people to visit this extraordinary gallery and immerse themselves into the rich Indian culture. For those who want to be mesmerized by and exposed to Indian traditions in a more in-depth manner, the one-of-a-kind Indian Heritage Centre is bound to impress.
About the Author: Sherah, 17, has been homeschooled for three years. “I am passionate about raising awareness about topics such as current events and culture and being able to effectively deliver a message that matters to me. I also enjoy researching and writing in hopes of educating, informing, and inspiring others.”