The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A slice of India in Singapore

Singapore, June 18 (Reuters): It is Sunday afternoon, and the sweet scent of jasmine wafts over the crowds wandering down Serangoon Road as they shop and dine in the heart of Singapore’s colourful precinct of Little India.

Street stalls sell flower garlands and fruit as worshippers crowd the three Hindu temples along the landmark street, imparting an ambience hard to find in other parts of the orderly, modern city.

“I feel like I am in Chennai, or in Delhi or Bangalore,” said . Charumathy, principal of a dance and music school, the Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society, in Little India.

Women in bright saris and young male labourers chat in Hindi, Tamil and other South Asian tongues, as they stop for spicy curry and tandoori dishes at one of the restaurants lining the street in the Chinese-dominated island state.

The South Asians who flock to Serangoon Road at weekends are as diverse as the sub-continent itself, but many of them share the common bond of Hinduism and the traditions of music and dance integral to the religion.

“There is always music and dance, we can’t do without it,” said Srivathsan, a volunteer with the Temple of Fine Arts, a community organisation that teaches and promotes Indian arts.

“In Singapore, there are so many Western influences and such a Chinese majority, we have to preserve some of our culture if someday we want to know where we came from and who we are,” Srivathsan said.

About 8 per cent of Singapore’s four million residents are of Indian descent.

Organisations such as Srivathsan’s and Charumathy’s are an important part of bringing those people together and keeping their culture alive.

In each classroom at Charumathy’s arts society, housed in an old school building, is a young Indian practising to master the arts that have defined the culture for thousands of years.

Behind one door, a girl with brow knit in concentration as her feet thump the polished floor, practices Indian dance steps while an instructor taps out a rhythm with a wooden stick.

In another room, a young man sits cross-legged on a carpet, his hands a blur as he extracts an intricate beat from a pakhawaj, or double-headed drum. His instructor keeps rhythm by slapping his knee and reciting the melodic scales of Indian classical music.

Stacey Tan, director for Arts Capability Development at Singapore’s government-funded National Arts Council, said the organisation of the Indian arts scene sets it apart from other ethnic groups, putting children into training at a young age with structured tests and diplomas.

“To them it’s a very big part of their culture and traditions to take instruction in an art form at an early age, and in that aspect they are bit stronger than you would see in some of the other cultures here,” Tan said.

Nawaz Mirajkar left India in 1996 to play and teach the tabla in Singapore, carrying on a craft mastered by his father and grandfather.

He said young musicians in Singapore are adapting the ancient forms of music to attract a more contemporary audience.

Nawaz, who at one time held the world record for longest continuous drumming — 27 hours and 45 minutes — has combined Indian, Chinese, Japanese and Malay percussion in performances.

“By maintaining our Indian tastes, and using that in a kind of fusion, we can intro- duce some new rhythms and then draw them into classical music,” he said.

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