“Indians have played a vital role in Singapore's history and left a permanent mark on the country,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the opening of Singapore's first museum dedicated to Indian heritage.
The Prime Minister said the Centre is a timely birthday gift from the Indian community to Singapore, as the country marks 50 years of independence. This year also commemorates 50 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and India.
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. "Even the name Singapura has Sanskrit roots," said Mr Lee.
The Indian community has been here since 1819 and over the years, has contributed to the making of Singapore, he noted. "They came from all different backgrounds, as builders, businessmen, artists and they brought with them their customs, their skills and trades. For example, much of Singapore’s early colonial architecture was built by Indian labourers, by Indian convict labourers, including the Istana and the Catholic cathedral,” said Mr Lee
He lauded the efforts of the pioneering Indians, including the enterprising efforts of Mr P Govindasamy Pillai, popularly known as PGP and Mr S Rajaratnam, who penned the national pledge.
The new $21-million, four storeyed Indian Heritage Centre, occupying 3,090 sq m, is located at 5 Campbell Lane in Little India. The project was set off in 2008 and was endorsed by the late founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew and was first helmed by the late Dr Balaji Sadasivan, the senior minister of state. Mr S. Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office, took over Dr Balaji's role as the chairman of the centre's steering committee after he died in 2010.
IHC features five thematic galleries tracing the history, development and achievements of the Indian community in Singapore and Southeast Asia. It is home to more than 440 artefacts, some of which have been acquired, donated or are on loan. Former President, Mr S R Nathan has donated a series of war-time publications. The Government of India has presented busts of four nationalist leaders – Mahatama Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Netaji Subash Chandra Bose.
Moving on to the cultural aspect of the day …..
Mr Lee was greeted by a percussion troupe from Kerala. The Pancha Vadhya Melam, by the group specially flown in by the Indian High Commission.
The audience consisting of the Indian diaspora was treated to a lively musical ensemble from People's Association, Singapore Indian Orchestra and Choir (SIOC) and to an interesting dance performance put up by the various prominent classical dance schools of Singapore to a choreographed piece by Mr Aravinth Kumaraswamy, Creative and Managing Director of Apsaras Arts.
To know more about the music segment I asked SIOC
How did you come up with or select the various musical pieces, both for orchestra and choir for the inaugural music segment of the IHC?
To this the Conductor, Mrs Lalitha Vaidyanathan, who was travelling overseas and yet was very responsive mentioned that they had carefully selected the various pieces and rearranged them according to the need as this being a Heritage project. The orchestra moved from the traditional piece to dance piece for which the dancers danced and ended with explosive item, Gangothri of Rajesh Vaidhya.
Mrs Vicknesvari Vadivalagan, Instructor and Assistant Conductor explained further…
“The opening piece of the orchestra was Bahudari Ragam in Athi thalam and for the Dance music piece we chose parts of an orchestration piece in Hamsadhwani Ragam, followed by parts of another orchestration piece in Kapi Ragam, continued with parts of O.S. Arun's Madyamavathi piece which was composed for the orchestra many years ago and ended with Brindhavani Saranga Thillana. I added and recited the dance jathis for Bharathanatyam, Odissi and Kathak. And Mr Lazar set the kanaku and jathis for the ending korvai. For final piece of the Orchestra; first half was composed by MY Kamashastri and second half, a composition of Rajesh Vaidya.
And to Aravinth who choreographed the attractive Dance segment…..
How did you conceive and go about the inaugural dance piece including the various dance forms for the inaugural ceremony of IHC? Were you influenced by the 'Manganiyar Seduction' event?
“The façade of the IHC building is unique as it exposes every floor of the building. Through the glass façade you can see the steps built along the lines of the Indian BAOLI style of step wells seen in many parts of Northern India. Hence, we placed the dancers on each of the steps and landings. Though it reminded the audience of the ‘Manganiyar Seduction” the inspiration was the BAOLI wells.
The music was performed live by the SIOC Orchestra. The dance styles used were – Bharatanatyam, Odissi, Kathak and Mohiniattam – 4 most popular Indian classical dance forms practiced in Singapore.
The choreography focused on highlighting the unique movements of each style, and also complementary movements amongst the styles. At times each style would perform for a few seconds while other styles would freeze into a pose. The movements were always preserving the uniqueness of each style so even when they were dancing in unison each style kept their form intact. Since the dancers were on steps and landings the choreography was challenging and movements had to be thought thoroughly and very creatively.
The costumes though typical to the dance forms, the colours were co-ordinated to complement and contrast with the mural paintings on the wall of IHC building.
There is a permanent moving light installation on the glass façade of the IHC building. This was programmed to “move” with the dance choreography.
In total we had 70 dancers from across most of the Indian dance institutions in Singapore participating.”
After the Dance, the SIOC had a Choir segment about this, Vicknesvari explained …“We kind of created a mini storyline for the Choir segment. The first piece Kadalin Meethu was about Indian immigrants coming to Singapore by sea to start a new life. The second piece Manathil Urudi Vendum
highlighted the values upon which our pioneers built the nation with grit and determination – something that was also characterized by the national pledge and the final piece Gayeja: ‘Keep Singing’ was chosen in the Hindi language as a reflection of the diverse Indian diaspora that has evolved in Singapore over the years and has brought greater cultural vibrancy and character here. The first and second choir pieces were composed by Mr Radha Vijayan.”
The evening continued with a performance of a Live Band.
Mr Iswaran had mentioned in his speech that the IHC seeks to serve as a springboard for visitors to explore the rest of Little India. To this end, he said, “A new Little India Heritage Trail will be launched in 2016 to celebrate the precinct’s history.”
IHC has lined up a number of programmes. You can visit their website, indianheritage.org.sg for details. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong inaugurated the Centre on Thursday, 7th of May.