This intricately carved doorway exemplifies the architectural style prevalent in South Indian domestic structures from the 19th to the early 20th centuries. It showcases the bespoke architectural traditions of Chettinad, a region inhabited by the Nattukottai Nagarthar Chettiars.
The Chettiars were a community of financiers and traders. They were among early Indian migrants who travelled to parts of Southeast Asian such as Vietnam, Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore.
Using this wealth generated from their businesses, the Chettiars constructed palatial mansions in their ancestral villages, with grandly carved timber entrances, along with pillars and ceilings made from Burmese and Indian teak wood.
The iconography of this Chettinad doorway is testimony to the influence of Nayaka religious art and architecture on the Chettinad region and its artisans. For instance, the carvings on the doorframe are in close resemblance to mural paintings of the Nayaka palaces. The doorway bears an impressive total of 5000 carved figures, with goddess Gajalakshmi occupying a central position in the doorframe. The elaborate carvings of mythic motifs not only added aesthetic beauty but also invoked divine power and provided protection for the owner and their family.
Gift of P Krishnan
This personal artefact from P Krishnan was donated to the Indian Heritage Centre collection in 2020.
P Krishnan, known by his pseudonym Puthumaithasan, is a prolific writer, poet, playwright, and radio broadcaster. His profound contributions have left an indelible mark on the literary landscape. In 1953, he played a pivotal role as one of the founding members of the Singapore Tamil Writer's Association, a testament to his commitment to fostering Tamil literature. Subsequently, in 1954, he assumed the position of Assistant Editor for the Tamil magazines Munnetram and Sinthanai. In 1962, Krishnan embarked on a new chapter in his career by joining Radio Television Singapore (RTS).
During his tenure there, he penned over 500 captivating short stories, poems, and plays for various mediums, including stage, radio, and television. He was also the first local writer to translate English works by literary luminaries such as Shakespeare, Byron, Keats, and George Orwell into Tamil. He was awarded the efficiency medal at the National Day Awards in 1992, and received the Cultural Medallion in 2008.
Collection of National Museum of Singapore
Aravan is a minor character in the Indian epic, the Mahabharata. He is worshipped by followers of the Tamil cult of Draupadi.
Born to the Pandava prince Arjuna and the naga princess Ulupi, Aravan sacrifices himself to the goddess Kali in the hope of victory for the Pandavas during the crucial eighteen-day Battle of Kurukshetra. Tamil tradition recounts Aravan receiving three boons from the god Krishna prior to his death. For one of the boons, Aravan asks that he continue to watch the proceedings at Kurukshetra even after his death on the eighth day. It is this aspect of Aravan that is celebrated by the Tamil cult of Draupadi. A ceremonial severed head of Aravan is especially worshipped during the lead up to and during the Theemithi festival; it is symbolic of Aravan’s witnessing the festival’s re enactment of the battle of Kurukshetra.
The head is commonly in a portable, painted wooden form; Aravan also has a dedicated shrine in most Draupadi temples. This is as seen at the Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore where both a permanent installation and processional image are installed. This polychrome figure was replaced and donated by the Sri Mariamman Temple to the National Museum of Singapore in 1990.Visit roots.gov.sg
Gift of Elizabeth Mathew
Captain John Jacob joined the Indian National Army (INA)’s suicide squad during World War II. He was also enrolled into the INA’s Officer’s training school and Intelligence wing.
Following the war he became a member of the ex-INA committee, the Netaji Memorial Library, Netaji Hindi High School, Dakshina Bharata Hindi Prachar Sabha, Netaji Research Bureau, Indian Welfare Home and the Worker’s Education Association. He was later employed at the Chronicle English Daily Newspaper and as a Food Control & SIB Officer.
Captain John Jacob continued to be an active spokesperson of the INA until his demise. He came forward to donate his INA uniform for display at the Indian Heritage Centre during his lifetime.Visit roots.gov.sg
The production of this particular type of porcelain can be traced back to the 16th century. It gained popularity during the 18th century under the Qing dynasty and has been found in places such as Persia, the Muslim courts of India, and Indonesia.
This porcelain bowl, often referred to as "healing bowl" in Islamic tradition, features bands of Arabic verses from the Qur’an inked in black, alternating with a red lacquer pattern. At the center, there is a "magic square" believed to possess healing powers for those who drank from these bowls.
The style of this bowl combines the traditional Chinese porcelain form of round-rimmed or foliate-rimmed bowls, with Persian-inspired lacquer and calligraphy inking.Visit roots.gov.sg
On loan from V L N Subbiah Chettiar & Family
Nachiappa Chettiar was one of the early Nattukottai Chettiar financiers in Singapore. This is a collection of furniture, tools and accessories from the collection of his family. The kai petti would have been used to store documents like promissory notes and IOU and tools like a wooden ruler. A canvas cash purse could also be stored, as the box included a lock for safe keeping.
Early Chettiar immigrants in Singapore contributed much to the economic development of the thriving settlement by providing credit and banking services. The majority of them operated their businesses from the shophouses situated along Market Street. A single shophouse was usually shared by many moneylenders, with each having his own workspace.
Navin Pawanchaikul’s Passage to Little India, was commissioned by the Indian Heritage Centre in 2016 for the centre’s inaugural exhibition ‘Once Upon a Time in Little India’
The artwork is a composition symbolic of the artist’s discovery of and encounters with Singapore’s Little India. The precinct in its ever-changing avatar and its people past and present pop up in a multi-canvas panorama. The presence of the early mandores, businessmen and professionals are depicted alongside images of contemporary vendors and tourists.
Painted in billboard style, this artwork epitomises Rawanchaikul’s fascination for Indian cinema. 12 metres long, this painting is composed of 130 panels in varying shapes and sizes.
Gift of Shashikala Samugan Nathan and Chandrakala Kunaseelan
M V Gurusamy, born in 1920 in Seremban, was an accomplished percussionist and mridangam artiste as well as a renowned percussion teacher in Singapore. He arrived in Singapore and participated in the Indian classical music scene here. He was a member of the cultural contingent led by the then Minister for Culture, S. Rajaratnam, which visited and performed at various centres in Sarawak, Brunei, and Sabah in 1965. He was the recipient of several titles including the Kala Ratna award given by the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society in 1986.
M V Gurusamy’s personal mridangam was donated to the Indian Heritage Centre by his daughters.Visit roots.gov.sg
Kirpa Ram Vij embarked on a distinguished career as an administrative service officer, leaving an indelible mark in the realms of defence and diplomacy. His journey commenced in 1965 when he assumed the esteemed position of the first Director of the Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute (SAFTI). Prior to that, he showcased his talent and dedication as a cadet officer in the Singapore Volunteer Artillery Regiment, earning the esteemed "Sword of Honour" distinction in 1960. Vij's unwavering commitment led him to serve during the Konfronstasi, earning him the prestigious Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Meritorious Service Medal) in 1963.
Notably, as the Director of SAFTI, he played a pivotal role in its establishment and forged a significant partnership with Israel for recruit training. Furthermore, his expertise and diplomatic acumen were demonstrated during his tenure as the Ambassador to Egypt, accredited to Yugoslavia, Pakistan, and Lebanon, from 1975 to 1979.
On loan from Sadhonadevi Gunaratnam
Annaratnam Gunaratnam was one of the first Indian women sculptors in Southeast Asia, and a veteran member of the Singapore Arts Society.
An important artist in the genre of portrait sculpture, she practiced her art through commissions. She also produced sculptures of many dignitaries like Mahatma Gandhi, and Swami Vivekananda, that were presented to the Ramakrishna Mission in Singapore.
Annaratnam Gunaratnam was also important in the field of art education. She taught art at the Methodist Girls' School, Kuala Lumpur, and was the head of the art department at the Raffles Girls' Secondary School from 1948 to 1968 in Singapore. She also taught art to boys at Beatty Secondary School before her early retirement.