Saturday 9 May 2015

PM Lee hails Indians' contributions as heritage centre opens on 8 May 2015

By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 8 May 2015

INDIANS have played a vital role in Singapore's history and left a deep mark on the country, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the opening of Singapore's first museum dedicated to Indian history.

Paying tribute to the community, Mr Lee said Indian traders had several thousands of years ago established trade links with South-east Asia which later included ancient Singapore. They introduced Indian religions, ideas of governance and political systems.

This led to the establishment of kingdoms such as the Majapahit. "Even the name Singapura has Sanskrit roots," said Mr Lee.

In modern times, they brought their customs, skills and trades, from backgrounds such as building, business and art.

Notable pioneers included Mr S. Rajaratnam, a founding member of the People's Action Party who penned the national pledge.

Mr Lee said the new $21 million heritage centre in Campbell Lane - the first in South-east Asia to focus on the Indian community's diverse heritage - celebrates these contributions.

"It reminds us of the importance of our heritage, which anchors our place and identity in a rapidly changing world," said Mr Lee.

The heritage institution operated by the National Heritage Board distils a history that spans 2,000 years and connects India to Singapore.

Mooted in 2008, the 3,090 sq m, four-storey centre is a culmination of about seven years of work. It cost $16 million to build, and another $5 million to outfit.

The five themes of the museum start with the early interactions between South Asia and South-east Asia and go on to feature the origins and movement of Indians in the 19th-to-21st centuries.

The third section focuses on contributions of early Indian pioneers in Singapore and Malaya, while the fourth showcases the social and political awakening of Indians here. This section includes the busts of four Indian nationalist leaders, including Mahatma Gandhi, that were donated by the Indian government.

The final section is on the contributions of Indians in Singapore from the late 1950s to the 1980s.

This storyline was pieced together after consultations with more than 50 Indian organisations, associations and groups.

Mr Lee said the centre is a timely birthday gift as Singapore celebrates its 50th anniversary and decades of diplomatic ties between the Republic and India.

In his opening speech, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office S. Iswaran, the chairman of the centre's steering committee, said the project had been "strongly endorsed" by the late former Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, a proponent of multiracialism.

Mr Iswaran also thanked the community for loaning or donating artefacts, such as family heirlooms, to the centre.

The centre has so far received 368 artefacts, more than 200 of which are now on display. They include jewellery, costumes, wood carvings and vintage suitcases used by Indian immigrants.

To mark its opening, a CultureFest will be held from today till May 31 that will spill out onto the newly pedestrianised Campbell Lane.

Housewife Pusparani Pakirisamy, 57, who attended the grand opening last night, said: "It also looks like a nice stop for tourists to get up to date with Indian heritage. I'm glad that our culture gets to shine bright."

Indian Heritage Centre to open to the public on May 8

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