Rich history behind artefacts at new Indian Heritage Centre

Artist's impression of the award-winning Indian Heritage Centre. -- PHOTO: URBNARC PTE LTD
Artist's impression of the award-winning Indian Heritage Centre. -- PHOTO: URBNARC PTE LTD

About 40 members of the Indian community have donated and loaned the new Indian Heritage Centre 250 artefacts - including intricate jewellery, police memorabilia and war time publications - from their private collections.

The four-storey centre, located at the intersection of Clive Street and Campbell Lane, cost about $12 million to build. It opens early next year.

Here are some of the highlights and the stories behind the artefacts:

An issue of The Orient Weekly from January 1946 is among several wartime publications donated by Singapore's sixth president SR Nathan. The collection provides rare documentary evidence of the involvement of the region's Indian community in the Indian National Army (INA) and the Indian Independence League - the army's fundraising arm, as they fought for independence from the British. Pictured on the cover of the weekly is INA's leader and Indian nationalist Subhas Chandra Bose.

This solid gold necklace or kasumalai was created by stringing together a series of 62 coins. Each coin bears the French insignia of the Fleur de Lys or lily, while the other side features England's Queen Victoria.

This necklace was owned and worn by Mrs Maria Soosaiammal Gnanapragasam in the late 1800s. The necklace, which was valued at about $100,000 seven years ago, was a gift from her husband Gnanapragasam Pillai, a wealthy trader. Its design reflects the stylistic influences of the French and British colonies in Asia and their impact on the lives of well-to-do Indian migrant families.

It was donated to the Indian Heritage Centre by the estate of Santhanam Victor Louis and the family of Gnanapragasam Pillai.

On loan from the Saigon Chettiars Temple Trust, this gold necklace with a large pendant and neckband, is a piece of deity jewellery dating back to 20th century Vietnam.

The community of Nattukottai Nagarattars, which is part of the Chettiar caste, set up temples across South-east Asia - including Singapore - as they moved around establishing business ties.

The necklace is one of 24 artefacts that the Trust is loaning to the Indian Heritage Centre. Temple trustee Ashwin Muthiah recently brought in craftsmen to help strengthen the necklace's joints and fasten its stones, in preparation for display at the upcoming Indian Heritage Centre.

A rare police whistle which was used in the 1800s till World War II in Johor and a Straits Settlements police badge from the late 19th century that was used here.

Both items are on loan from Mr Sarjit Singh, a collector of police memorabilia from Singapore and Malaysia. His interest was sparked by his grandfather Mr Wazir Singh and his father-in-law Mr Karam Singh Phalewal who were part of the colonial police force.

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