Little India

1 Introduction
2 Ins and outs
3 Serangoon Road
4 Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple

The city's South Asian community has its roots in the grid of streets branching off Serangoon Road. Tourist-spruced handicraft shops are packed into the Little India Arcade opposite the more gritty wet market of the Tekka Centre. The best Indian restaurants lie shoulder to shoulder along Race Course Road, while a bit of exploring will unearth theatres, a Bengali temple and a hand-operated spice mill. Dunlop Street connects the main arteries of Serangoon Road and Jalan Besar - it deserves a mention as the heart of backpacker land, with plenty of cheap bars and guesthouses and hostels melding with the Indian bustle.

Ins and outs

Little India
station on the Northeast line has an exit that opens onto the Tekka Centre market. Numerous buses run up Jalan Besar (parallel to Serangoon Road), including Nos 64 and 65 from Orchard Road; No 139 runs along Serangoon Road from Orchard Road.

Serangoon Road

Serangoon Road was named after the Rongong stork that used to inhabit swampland in the area. By 1828, Serangoon Road was established as 'the road leading across the island', but the surrounding area remained swampland until the 1920s when its brick kilns and lime pits attracted Indian (mainly Tamil) labourers to the area. In 1840 the racecourse was completed, which drew Europeans to settle here. (The road names Cuff, Dickson and Clive would have been private lanes to the European residences.)

The lively
(or Tekka Centre), on the corner of Buffalo and Serangoon roads, is an entertaining spot to wander. Spices can be ground to your own requirements. Upstairs there is a maze of shops and stalls; the
wet market
is beyond the hawker centre, travelling west along Buffalo Road. New legislation introduced in 1993, which ruled that no animals could be slaughtered on wet market premises, saw the end of the chicken-plucking machine. It used to do the job in 12.4 seconds.

Kandang Kerbau
- Malay for corral - was the centre of Singapore's cattle-rearing area in the 1870s. The cattle trade was dominated by Indians and among them was IR Belilios, a Venetian Jew from Calcutta who gave his name to a road nearby. The roads around Zhujiao have names connected to the trade: Lembu (cow) Road and Buffalo Road. With the boom in the cattle trade, related activities established themselves in the area; the cattle provided power for wheat grinding, pineapple preserving and so on.

Opposite the market on Serangoon Road is the
Little India Arcade
, another Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) project. This collection of handicraft shops is a great place to pick up Indian knick-knacks such as leather sandals and bags, spices and curry powders, incense, saris and other printed textiles. There is also a food court here. On the north side of Campbell Road, facing onto the Little India Arcade, is the yellow-painted Jothi's Flower Shop, where garlands of jasmine flowers are strung for Hindu devotees to take to the temple. Hindu holy days are Tuesday and Friday, when business is particularly brisk. The closely packed shops in the surrounding network of streets house astrologers, framers, tailors, spice merchants, jewellers and pumping Bollywood DVD and Hindi CD shops. Down Dunlop Street - named after Mr AE Dunlop, the Inspector General of Police whose private road this was - is the
Abdul Gaffoor Mosque. A mosque was first built on this site in 1859 by Sheikh Abdul Gaffoor bin Shaikh Hyder, although the current brick structure was erected in 1907. It is hardly a splendid building, but nonetheless has been gazetted as one of Singapore's 58 national monuments.

Just off Dunlop Street, on Perak Road, is another architecturally unremarkable building, the
Church of True Light
, which was erected in 1850 to serve Little India's Anglican community of Hock Chew (modern-day Fuzhou, Fujian) and Hinghwa (Xinghua, a language spoken in Fuzhou and Quanzhou, Fujian) descent.

On Cuff Road there is Little India's last
spice mill
, at work in a blue and mustard yellow shophouse, owned by P Govindasamai Pillai. It's hard to miss the chugging of the mill, let alone the rich smells of the spices. Here spices are ground for use on the day of cooking.

Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple
, was built for the Bengali community by indentured Bengali labourers in 1881 and is dedicated to Kali, the ferocious incarnation of Siva's wife. The name of the temple means 'Kali the courageous'. It is similar in composition to most other temples of its kind and has three main elements: a shrine for the gods, a hall for worship and a
(or tower), built so that pilgrims can identify the temple from afar. The
of this temple - with its cascade of gaudy, polychromed gods, goddesses, demons and mythological beasts - is the most recent addition and was only completed in 1987. Worshippers and visitors should walk clockwise around the temple hall and, for good luck, an odd number of times. The principal black image of Kali in the temple hall (clasping her club of destruction - not a woman to get on the wrong side of) is flanked by her sons, Ganesha and Murugan.

Further up Serangoon Road is another Indian temple,
Sri Perumal
, with its high
sculptured with five manifestations of Vishnu. The temple was founded in 1855, but much of the decoration is more recent. This carving was finished in 1979 and was paid for by local philanthropist P Govindasamy Pillai, better known as PGP, who made his fortune selling saris. Like other Hindu temples, the greatest activity is on the holy days of Tuesdays and Fridays. For the best experience of all, come here and to the Sri Veeramakaliamman and Hindu Chettiar temples during the two-day festival of
- generally held in February - which celebrates the birthday of Murugan, one of Kali's sons.

Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple

Further north is the Buddhist Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple - or Temple of One Thousand Lights - dominated by a 15 m-high, 300 tonne, rather crude, statue of the Buddha surrounded by 987 lights (the lights are turned on if you make a donation). The image is represented in the attitude of subduing Mara - the right hand touches the ground, calling the Earth Goddess to witness the historic Buddha's resistance of the attempts by Mara to tempt him with her naked dancing daughters. At the back of the principal image is a smaller reclining Buddha. Devotees come here to worship the branch of the sacred Bodhi tree - under which the Buddha gained enlightenment - and a replica mother-of-pearl footprint of the Buddha showing the 108 auspicious signs of the Enlightened One.

Across the road is the Chinese Mahayana Buddhist
Leong San See Temple
- or Dragon Mountain Temple - with its carved entrance (where you don't have to remove your shoes). It is dedicated to Kuan Yin (the goddess of mercy) who had 18 hands, which are said to symbolize her boundless mercy and compassion. The principal image on the altar shows her modelled, as usual, in white, surrounded by a mixed bag of Chinese Mahayana folk gods and Theravada
images of the Buddha.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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