NESTLED in the heart of Little India, amid its busy streets and alleyways, is a new museum that houses ancient artefacts dating back to Indian empires of yore.
The treasure trove of historic items includes a 5th century red sandstone head of Buddha from the Gupta empire and a 10th century granite statue of Hindu deity Vishnu from the Chola period.
The new Indian Heritage Centre in Campbell Lane is the first museum here dedicated to Indian history.
The centre cost $16 million to build, another $5 million to fit out, and will have more than 440 artefacts on display when it opens to the public on May 8.
It is run by the National Heritage Board (NHB), which operates two other existing heritage institutions - the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and the Malay Heritage Centre.
Centre director Gauri Krishnan said that the museum "can help foster a greater sense of pride and identity in the Indian community".
Mr Alvin Tan, NHB's assistant chief executive of policy and development, said that the centre "contributes to a better understanding of Singapore's multiracial and multi-cultural society".
First mooted in 2008, the 3,090 sq m, four-storey centre is a culmination of about seven years of work.
The centre has two levels of permanent exhibition space, divided into five themes.
Organised chronologically, it starts with the early interactions between South Asia and South-east Asia, and goes on to feature the origins and movement of Indians from the 19th century to the 21st century.
The third section charts the contributions of early Indian pioneers in Singapore and Malaya, while the fourth showcases the social and political awakening of Indians here. The final section showcases the contributions of Indians in Singapore from the late 1950s to the 1980s.
The centre had received a $10 million grant from the Government to acquire artefacts, which include a two-storey glazed ceramic tile mosque facade from Multan, Pakistan, dating back to the 1890s.
The artefact came partially assembled with some loose tiles. Mounters and conservators had to work on it like a jigsaw puzzle, said curator Nalina Gopal.
To mark its opening, the centre will organise a CultureFest from May 8 to 31. Activities such as street fairs, performances and outdoor film screenings will spill out onto the newly pedestrianised Campbell Lane.
Shopkeeper Siva Selvarasi, 50, who owns a handicraft shop opposite the centre, said that Indian culture is colourful and exciting. She believes that the centre could draw all segments of the public and benefit businesses.
"There's so much potential for it to be a vibrant space in the already lively Little India neighbourhood.
"I hope it can take off and succeed because everyone can benefit from it," she said.
This article was first published on April 23, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.