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PM Lee Hsien Loong opens the Indian Heritage Centre – June 24th, 2015

Images courtesy: Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth

The Indian Heritage Centre (IHC) was launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the 7th May 2015 in Little India. Managed by the National Heritage Board, IHC is the result of a close partnership between the government and the community to promote a greater understanding and appreciation of Singapore’s Indian heritage and culture, and epitomises the Indian community’s vital role in multicultural Singapore.

The centre opened its doors to the public on 8 May 2015, and is the first museum in Southeast Asia to focus on the diverse heritage of the Indian community. The four-storey architectural gem stands in the heart of the historic Little India precinct. It comprises permanent galleries featuring five themes, a special exhibition gallery, as well as educational and activity spaces that provide an immersive learning experience for all visitors.

An Inclusive Community Space

In keeping with IHC’s aim to be a focal point for the community, its thematic galleries showcase the diverse stories of the various groups within Singapore’s Indian community, and their rich links with the global Indian diaspora. The galleries are chronologically arranged to span the period from 1st century CE to the 21st century. Visitors can learn about the historical links between the Indian sub-continent and Southeast Asia, as well as the experiences of South Asians in Southeast Asia, in particular, Singapore. They will also be introduced to the pioneers in Singapore’s Indian community and their contributions to modern Singapore.

Throughout its journey, IHC has always adopted an inclusive approach and has actively engaged the community on various occasions and through different platforms, such as the IHC Artefacts Collection Drive, which has been hugely successful in gathering artefact donations and loans from the community – many of which are on display within the galleries.

These community artefacts make up nearly half of the 443 artefacts displayed at IHC. They include a pitcher belonging to the late Mr G. Sarangapany, a prominent writer and publisher who set up the Tamil magazine Munnetram and edited the newspaper Tamil Murasu, as well as a handbag made from parachute chords which was hand-crafted during World War II. These artefacts and their stories enhance the gallery storylines, and provide more in-depth insights into the lives of the Indian community over the years.

They are joined by other significant artefacts from the National Collection, such as the Chettinad Doorway that bears a total of 5,000 intricately carved figures, and a 19th century tiled Islamic façade from the Multan region in Pakistan.

Forging Global Partnerships

The collection on display at IHC includes objects that are gifted or loaned from overseas partners. IHC is now home to four bronze busts of prominent Indian leaders including Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Netaji Subash Chandra Bose and India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. These are gifted by the Government of India to commemorate 50 years of diplomatic ties between India and Singapore, and the opening of IHC.

The Centre also houses its first institutional loan from the British Library, which offers visitors the rare chance to view personal objects belonging to Sikh martyr Bhai Maharaj Singh Ji (or Bhagwan Singh). Bhai Maharaj Singh Ji made many sacrifices in his fight against British imperialism. His legacy continues to be honoured till this day in Singapore, where annual commemorative activities are conducted at his memorial at Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road on Jalan Bukit Merah.

The loan, now on display at IHC for a year, signifies the trust and recognition of IHC by international counterparts, and highlights IHC’s standing as a globally recognised and respected heritage institution.

Increasing Accessibility and Youth Outreach

To reach out to new audiences, IHC utilises technology to offer greater interactivity and information to enrich visitors’ experience. They also make the exhibits attractive and relevant to younger audiences through multimedia platforms such as role-playing games for youths, special audio guides for children, as well as interactive touch screens.

IHC is also the first museum in Singapore to incorporate augmented reality in its permanent galleries. Through visitors’ mobile phones, or handheld devices available at IHC, visitors can listen to a virtual personal guide who will provide more information on certain artefacts, or “interact” with selected artefacts without touching them.

Moving ahead, IHC is also working with secondary schools to promote the Tamil language by training student docents to offer both English and Tamil guided tours of the galleries. Tours in other languages such as Malay and Mandarin will be offered later in the year.

Source: National Heritage Board’s Media Release

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