SINGAPORE - The Indian community has contributed to Singapore "in deep ways" Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday night as he opened the $21 million Indian Heritage Centre.
Paying tribute to the community, Mr Lee said Indian traders had from as far back as 4,500 years ago established trade links with Southeast Asia, which included ancient Singapore. They introduced Indian religions, ideas of governance and political systems.
In modern times, they brought their customs, skills and trades, from a variety of professions such as builders, businessmen and artists.
There also have been many notable pioneers including Government founding member Mr S Rajaratnam who penned the national pledge.
Mr Lee said the new Campbell Lane centre - the first museum here dedicated to Indian history - "reminds us of the importance of our heritage, which anchors our place and identity in a rapidly changing world".
The Little India centre cost the National Heritage Board $16 million to build and another $5 million to fit out.
Divided into five themes, the museum starts with the early interactions between South Asia and South-east Asia, and goes on to feature the origins and movement of Indians from the 19th century to the 21st century.
The third section features the contributions of early Indian pioneers in Singapore and Malaya, while the fourth showcases the social and political awakening of Indians here.
The final section showcases 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.
The 3,090 sq m, four-storey centre is a culmination of about seven years' of work.
Minister in the Prime Minister's Office S. Iswaran, chair of the centre's steering committee, said the project was "strongly endorsed" by the late founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, a proponent of multi-racialism.
Mr Iswaran also thanked the community for loaning or donating artefacts including family heirlooms.
The centre has so far received a total of 368 artefacts through a collection drive in 2011. More than 200 of these are now on display.
Mr Iswaran said: "The Indian Heritage Centre is not just a documentation of history or a description of the present. It is an enterprise to enliven and share the vibrant and still unfolding story of the Indian community in Singapore."
To mark its opening, a CultureFest will be launched on Wednesday, lasting until May 31. Admission will be free for all during this period.
Activities such as street fairs, performances and outdoor film screenings will be held on the newly-pedestrianised Campbell Lane.
The NHB will also launch a new trail of the Little India cultural enclave next year.