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Ambika Gogna
Friday, May 23, 2014

Singapore

Indian community has donated 250 artefacts to upcoming Indian Heritage Centre

tabla! | Ambika Gogna | Friday, May 23, 2014

In the lead up to the opening of the Indian Heritage Centre (IHC) in 2015, the Centre has been actively engaging the public to contribute to its permanent galleries.

The artefacts are pouring in. Some have been donated while others have been given on loan. The public can expect to view them at the Indian Heritage Centre (IHC) when it throws open its doors sometime early next year.

On May 20, IHC's steering committee revealed for the first time, some of the artefacts which they received from donors.

Some of the major donors and lenders present included former Singapore President S.R. Nathan, who donated a collection of wartime publications during India's struggle for independence against the British. When asked what prompted him to donate these items, he told tabla!: "The papers were getting destroyed, and what they include is a history which is quite unknown - the role Subash Chandra Bose played in this part of the world. I thought it was a good one for people to know about."

Mr Anthony Santhanam and Ms Angeline Santhanam, the grandson and granddaughter of Indian pioneer trader Gnanapragasam Pillai (1872-1915), were present on behalf of their family to talk about their donation of a beautiful necklace created out of 62 gold sovereign coins strung together and with an engraved clasp studded with rubies.

This belonged to their late grandmother Maria Soosaiammal and was a gift from her husband during the late 1800s as an expression of his love for her. The necklace, made in Chennai, reflects evidence of the stylistic influence of the French and British colonies in Asia.

On one side of each coin is engraved the head of Queen Victoria and on the other side is the Fleur de Lis which is a symbol in French heraldry. The Gnanapragasam family migrated to Singapore/Malaya from Pondicherry, then a French territory in India.

Dr R. Gangatharan Davar - son of pioneering philanthropist Lakshmi Rengaswamy Davar, donated gold and ruby earrings, a rakodi (hair ornament) and barettes studded with diamonds, emeralds and rubies. These are all examples of traditional South Indian jewellery and the earrings belonged to Madam E.A. Ponnammal, who was a pioneer of her time. She operated a money-lending business during the early 20th century in Singapore, even though money-lending was a profession associated with men, especially in the Chettiar community. The barettes and rakodi were his maternal heirlooms.

Mr Sarjit Singh, a keen collector of police memorabilia, has lent the IHC badges and other uniform accessories of the Straits Settlements and Federated Malay States police forces from the 19th and 20th centuries. Sikhs were among the earliest migrants to Singapore and were recruited by the colonial government in the late 19th century in the armed and police forces.

Businessman Ashwin Muthiah was present on behalf of the Saigon Chettiars' Temple Trust. The trust has lent IHC two necklaces, one studded with rubies, emeralds and diamonds, and one made of gold, a silver staff, and a parrot accessory. These ornaments are meant for the Hindu deities, and it was common practice for the Chettiars (early businessmen migrants from Tamil Nadu) to build temples for the deity Murugan in the places where they settled. Their presence in the Straits Settlements can be traced to the late 18th century onwards. They set up establishments in Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore and these ornaments were donated to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Singapore by the Chettiar community in Saigon, Vietnam.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and chairman of IHC's steering committee S. Iswaran said: "In terms of the overall development, we are progressing really well. The building is almost near completion, and our hope is to officially open the centre by the first or second month of next year. There's also been another major effort in terms of the content, as the response, when we reached out to the community for donations, has been overwhelming. There's been a lot of interest and the support has far surpassed what we had expected."

The project began seven years ago, with absolutely no collection to begin with, and the IHC's Artefact collection drive began only in 2011. The original estimate was that it would be able to put together 150 artefacts, but they have far surpassed that goal as, today, they have acquired as many as 250 artefacts from more than 40 lenders and donors.

Centre director of the IHC Dr Gauri Krishnan said the main focus of the IHC is the Indian community in Singapore, followed by all Singaporeans and then visitors to Singapore.

tabla@sph.com.sg


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