New heritage centre gets $100k family heirloom

New heritage centre gets $100k family heirloom
This necklace, on loan from Saigon Chettiars Temple Trust, dates back to the 20th century. It features rubies, emeralds and diamonds, and is one of 24 artefacts that the Trust is loaning to the Indian Heritage Centre.

The 11 grandchildren of a wealthy Singaporean trader have donated a $100,000 necklace, dripping with 62 solid gold coins, to the new Indian Heritage Centre (IHC) instead of dividing up the family heirloom among themselves.

The necklace that their grandfather Gnanapragasam Pillai ordered from Chennai for his wife Maria Soosaiammal Gnanapragasam is one of more than 250 community-donated artefacts that will go on display when the centre opens early next year.

The family came forward after learning about the centre's collection drive, which started in June 2011, to fill the new four-storey building - estimated to cost $16 million - at the intersection of Clive Street and Campbell Lane.

Mr Gnanapragasam's granddaughter, Ms Angeline Santhanam, said the family felt it was important to share the piece of socio-cultural history with the rest of Singapore.

Her grandfather migrated here from South India in the early 1900s and established a grocery business in Serangoon Road.

Ms Angeline, a retiree in her 60s, told The Straits Times: "Rather than split up my grandmother's necklace among ourselves and reduce its worth, we donated it to remember his contributions to Singapore."

About 40 other members of the Indian community have donated or loaned artefacts, ranging from police memorabilia from the late 19th century used by Sikh police and military personnel to hair ornaments used by South Indian women during special occasions such as weddings.

The contributors include Mr S R Nathan, Singapore's sixth president, who donated a series of war-time publications from the 1940s which provide rare proof of the involvement of the region's Indian community in the Indian National Army. Back then, the army was fighting for independence from Britain.

IHC director Gauri Krishnan told a special preview of the artefacts yesterday that she was "most encouraged" by the number of contributions, which was double what she expected. Dr Gauri said the artefacts will showcase the history of Singapore's Indian community, detail its food, culture and traditions, and tell the stories of both Singapore's pioneers and the man in the street.

Mr Nathan said the community's contributions highlight the rich heritage of the Indian community, which has so far been "dispersed and quite unknown". He hopes more people will come forward to share their stories and photographs.

"I hope the establishment of the centre and its opening will open new eyes... and maybe others that have artefacts that they've protected, they would want to give it to the heritage centre, to give it a wider distribution for people to see," he added.

melodyz@sph.com.sg

This article was published on May 21 in The Straits Times.

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