Little India

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The Serangoon Road area, was never designated by Raffles as an area for the Indian community, unlike ‘Chinatown’ or ‘Kampong Glam’ were for the Chinese and the Muslims respectively.

Nonetheless it has developed since the mid-1800s, into the heart of Singapore’s Indian community and is now the main venue for public celebrations of important Hindu/Indian festivals such as Deepavali and Pongal.

Now known as ‘Little India’ the area bounded by Serangoon Road, Sungei Road and Jalan Besar, is rich in architecture, culture and history. It is also known as ‘Tekka’ in Hokkien, named after the clumps of bamboo that used to be at the junction of Bukit Timah and Serangoon Roads, or as ‘K.K.’ an abbreviation for the ‘Kandang Kerbau Maternity Hospital’ that was a major landmark in the area.


The area’s main thoroughfare, Serangoon Road, was one of the earliest roads built in Singapore. It was marked as “The Road Leading Across the Island” in Lieutenant Jackson’s 1828 Plan of Singapore.  Farms were set up along the road—and they produced crops like sireh or betel nut, padi, vegetables and sugar cane. The Rochor Canal was constructed in 1836 to meet the farmers’ irrigation needs.

The Race Course was built in the early 1840s at what is now known as Farrer Park. The first bi-annual racing season was held in 1843. Drawn by the Race Course, some European families moved into the neighbourhood. Dunlop, Cuff, Dickson and Clive Streets bear the names of the families who once used these streets as private access lanes.

Later, cattle trading developed into the main economic activity of the area. This drew many Indians who were involved in the cattle and dairy trade as businessowners and labourers, to start settling in the area. Some Europeans joined the industry. Belilios Street and Desker Street were named, respectively, after I. R. Belilios, a cattle trader, and Andre Desker, the owner of the largest slaughter house and butchery. Buffalo Road and Kerbau Road (“kerbau” is Malay for “buffalo”) are also reminders of cattle trading in the area.

The growth of the Indian population in the late 19th and early 20th century resulted in the growth of numerous religious and cultural landmarks. The development of other commercial activities in newly constructed shophouses took place as the cattle trade declined. Important social insititutions were also set up, such as the first Ramakrishna Mission, to provide for the education and welfare of the community.

By the 1940s, the area had become a commercial-residential area with a significant Indian population. The diversity of the Indian and local population in this area is demonstrated by the presence of a wide variety of places of worship catering to Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians, which are now architectural landmarks.

During the 1960s and 1970s, many residents living in the area gradually moved out, and Little India became primarily a commercial centre. The slums were cleared in the 1970s, and public housing projects like Tekka Centre, Rowell Court and Kerbau Road were built within this district in the 1980s to house the resettled population.


The shophouse designs in Little India range from the Early (1840-1900), First Transitional, Late (1900-1940), and Second Transitional to Art Deco (1930-1960) styles.

Several religious and architectural landmarks are spread among the shophouses. These include:
• Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple at Serangoon Road (National Monument)
• Abdul Gaffoor Mosque at Dunlop Street, (National Monument)
• Kampong Kapor Methodist Church at Kampong Kapor Road (Conservation)
• Former Hong Wen Chinese School at Dickson Road (Conservation)
• Shree Lakshminarayan Temple at Chander Road (Conservation)
• Church of the True Light at Perak Road (Conservation)
• Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple at Serangoon Road (Conservation)

The two main streets in Little India, Serangoon Road and Jalan Besar, run in a northeasterly and southwesterly direction. While most side streets go perpendicular to main streets, Little India is unique in that they are skewed at an acute angle, possibly because they were originally private roads leading to bungalows off Serangoon Road.

The grid of main streets, side roads, backlanes and open spaces of Little India make up the area’s urban fabric, which has remained intact since the late 19th century.

The Indian Heritage Centre at the junction of Campbell Lane and Clive Street, when completed in 2014, will showcase the history of Singapore’s Indian community.


Little India was gazetted as a conservation area on 7 July 1989. Additional buildings along Desker Road, Syed Alwi Road and Jalan Besar were conserved on 25 October 1991, 21 January 2008 and 23 November 2010, respectively.

Today, traditional businesses like goldsmiths, Indian restaurants and coffee shops, saree shops and stalls selling garlands and sweets continue to thrive alongside newer establishments like boutiques and souvenir shops. There is round-the-clock activity from the clusters of night-time hangouts, backpacker hostels and late night eateries in the area.

The Tekka Market continues to serve as one of Singapore’s major markets and focuses on produce needed by our Indian community. The Race Course Road has developed into a showcase of Indian cuisine, while numerous arts groups are housed in conserved shophouses along Kerbau Road, adding to the cultural life of the area.

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