A few months ago, we took you around the lost market of Chinatown in Singapore. This time around, we bring you to another rich district in Singapore. Little India adds to the multi-cultural landscape that Singapore boasts of.
As the name of the locality suggests, it is the place where the older Indian settlements started developing around in Singapore. Although nowadays Singapore sees ethnic Indians along with other racial groups living all over Singapore, Little India has been preserved and hailed as a heritage that Singapore is proud of.
The Tamil community in Singapore is particularly active in Singapore, and it is mostly their culture and influences you will get to see around Little India - in everything from food to clothes. Little India is commonly known as Tekka in the Singaporean Indian community. Along Serangoon Road, you can find Tekka Centre which is a multi-use building complex comprising a wet market, food centre and shops.
The market was initially known as "Kandang Kerbau" (or just "K. K."), Malay for "buffalo pens", referring to the slaughterhouses operating in the area until the 1920s. The original market was built in 1915 and was located across the street between Hastings Road and Sungei Road. When it was torn down in 1982 and relocated to its present site, the new multi-use complex was named Zhujiao Centre, the pinyin version of Tek Kha. However, to locals, especially non-Chinese, the new word Zhujiao was both hard to read and pronounce and bore no resemblance to Tekka. Eventually, the complex was officially renamed Tekka Centre in 2000 as it better reflected the history of the place.
This is a landmark, as different ethnic communities come together here to congregate over food. There is a huge variety of food available here on the ground floor and is not limited to just Indian food. Tekka Centre is a place where you can have your breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper!
Next to the food, there are rows of stalls selling fresh produce. Regular patrons prefer to buy all their groceries from the same shop, while others spread their buys between different stalls. As with any wet market in Singapore, the freshest and best produce is available early in the morning. The popular items get sold out very quickly, so waking up early morning is indeed worthwhile for those seeking these items. There are vendors open till late evening selling meat, fruits, vegetables and other condiments like Indian spices. It’s a bustling market with people bustling with a lot of energy.
However, if you go one floor above, the story changes a little. The second floor houses the textiles and clothes shops. It is almost overwhelming to be greeted by the sight of long rows of colourful and wonderfully patterned clothes hanging from the wall. Indian culture is known for its use of vibrant colours, and it’s origins have religious and political roots that have eventually seeped into its festival and cultural celebrations.
In between all the fabric and mannequins, find tailors bent over sewing machines patiently altering the clothes the women buy to give them all a custom fit. They have spools of colourful thread to match the equally colourful clothes and are very swift with their alterations.
Outside of Tekka Centre are public housing blocks developed by the Singapore government. Families walking by with their children is a common sight, often returning from work or school after a long day in the evenings. Little kids gather together for their daily play times, running about and laughing merrily in all their fun. Walk a little further along the street, and you’ll be greeted by the street markets and the shophouses lining the length of the road.
Little India Arcade is a single-storey open shopping centre that house some of the street market stalls. Here, you can find plenty of fresh produce, prayer offerings, clothes and Indian cultural artefacts being sold.
Flowers play an important role in Hindu poojas, the prayer rituals are incomplete without offering flowers to gods. Each flower is typically associated with different deities - so you can be sure to find a wide variety of flowers being sold here. Many stalls are selling fresh flower garlands, loose flowers and flowers on the stems.
You can even sit down at a counter to get a henna tattoo - there are booklets with various designs that the artist renders on the customer’s skin. This tattoo is not permanent and wears off in a few weeks time. They offer sticker tattoos to buy as well. Indian ladies frequent these places as the women tend to wear henna for cultural and social events. The shops lining the streets are catered to the needs of these ladies - from gold jewellery shops, saree shops, accessories (bangles, bindis - forehead stickers, necklaces, earrings, etc.), footwear, bags handmade in India, scarves, decorations for the house are all sold here.
There are little food stalls & shops, often times vegetarian, in between these other shops because people often tend to get lost in their shopping and take breaks over food. Indian food is favourite everywhere because of the complexities of their flavour and known for the spices in their diet.
Not everything is on the main road, the side lanes have much to offer as an extension of the main Serangoon Road. There is the Indian Heritage Centre along Campbell Lane which showcases the culture, heritage and history of the Indian Singaporeans. Stroll along the lanes to see rich murals along the walls where art comes alive to narrate the culture of the location and becomes one with the city. Some even take the form of installations that display more of the culture in the use of colours and patterns.
The Festival of Lights, or also known as Deepavali is in November this year where this area takes on a festive vibe and transforms. Be sure to book a photo tour with us to explore these areas.
Author : Anya Likhitha
Anya is the lead photographer for our Singapore Photography Tours. Dreamer. Star gazer. All about the visuals. Coming from a fashion and fine art background, Anya's photography is an extension of her subconscious.