Little India

Little India (3)

The Bollywood music you hear when you walk by a shop, the smell of cinnamon and cloves mixing with the smell of jasmine together with the vibrant colours of the women’s saris culminating in the countless small restaurants serving the best curry outside of India. You are about to discover that Little India is a spectacle for the senses. 

Believe it or not, originally, this area was not inhabited by the Indian community, but by European settlers who built their homes here. In fact, many of the existing streets in this part of Singapore began as private roads leading up to their houses.  Street names such as Dunlop, Norris or Desker are named after these early settlers.  Early European settlers even built a racecourse in 1840 in what is today Farrer Park. It is interesting to note that prior to turning it into a park, this area was used for horse racing on weekends and as a golf course during the week.  It was even used as an airstrip in the early twentieth century. 

The first Indian immigrants arrived in Singapore in 1819 directly from India, then a British colony, as soldiers and assistants by Sir Stamford Raffles. One of Raffles’ companions was the Indian Naraina Pillai, who, after arriving on the ship Indiana, became a great entrepreneur and businessman.  In 1826 he opened the first brickyard in this area and this led to the growth of what is now called Little India. 

Starting in 1840, in addition to opening more brickyards, Indians began to use these pastures for livestock, attracting even more Indian immigration.  Several street names in this area are reminiscent of this. For example, Buffalo Road and Kerbau Road, which incidentally both mean Buffalo Road, in English and Malay respectively.  .Even Singapore’s largest children's hospital on nearby Bukit Timah Road is called Kandang Kerbau, Malay for buffalo corral. 

Many Indians have helped develop Singapore, though not all by choice.  Starting in 1825 about one thousand Indian prisoners were brought to work in the construction of several buildings, including St Andrew's Cathedral. 

Today, Indians make up 7% of the population of Singapore and most of them live in Little India.  They arrived en mass in the nineteenth century, especially from Tamil Nadu, in southern India. That is why the official Indian language in Singapore is Tamil. They are a dark-skinned people, who mainly practice Hinduism and who always greet you with a smile on their face. There are also many Indian Muslims and a small Sikh community who arrived after 1890. That is why this is a neighbourhood of contrasts.   Churches coexist with mosques, Hindu temples, chic restaurants, famous soothsayers and Ayurvedic massage tents. 

The real backbone of Little India is Serangoon Road. To the south you will find a large number of lively shops, restaurants and soothsayers and to the east, a beautiful junction of narrow streets worth exploring. Parallel to Serangoon Road is Race Course Road where you will find a large selection of very good and reputable restaurants and beautiful temples. 

Your visit to Little India is not complete without going to Tekka Market, south of Serangoon Road, for a compendium of Indian life under one roof. Downstairs, a lively market where you can buy exotic fruit and take photos of the butcher shops. On the first floor, however, you'll find shops selling leather goods, footwear, clothing and cheap electronic equipment. Go to the north of the market, on the adjacent streets, to buy spices, incense and ayurvedic medicines. 

Also, don’t miss the Little India Arcade, which opened a few years ago. It is the ideal place to admire and buy fabrics, tapestries, bracelets, necklaces, religious statues and all kinds of music. 

As you can see, Little India invites you to experience India right in the middle of Singapore. 

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