SINGAPORE – An exhibition with more than 450 artefacts from Sikhs in Singapore was launched on Friday, March 26, one of the biggest showcases of the community in the country’s history. Sikhs in Singapore - A Story Untold, housed at the Indian Heritage Centre in Little India (a district in Singapore), describes experiences of the 13,000 followers of Sikhism. It is mostly made up of artefacts contributed by the community over the past year. Given the passion for collection of many of the Sikhs here, the objects loaned to the centre have significance far beyond Singapore’s shores. A 19th century gouache on paper painting, for instance, dates back to the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, who united Punjab against invaders to create the first Sikh Empire in 1801. Another attraction of the exhibition are loans from the internationally renowned Khanuja family collection and the Kapany collection in the United States, which were brought here despite the difficulties of transporting them amid the coronavirus restrictions. The tightly packed displays, which occupied space of just 230 square meters, were whittled down from a deluge of more than 1,000 artefacts offered by the community. According to the curatorial team, it indicated a desire for stories that were previously kept private to be told publicly. “Sikhs in Singapore are often reduced to their physical characteristics, or seen as just policemen or guards. We hope this (exhibition) helps people realise that there is more to know,” said exhibition curator Malvika Agarwal. “Much of the Singaporean-Sikh identity has been kept alive by being passed down through successive generations of Sikhs and so it was crucial that we worked closely with the community.” The Indian Heritage Centre said Friday was chosen for the exhibition's opening since it was the 140th anniversary of the Sikhs' arrival in Singapore. Sikhs have firmly rooted themselves in Singapore since their arrival from Punjab in the 19th century. The Indian Heritage Centre said Friday was chosen for the exhibition's opening since it was the 140th anniversary of the Sikhs' arrival in Singapore. Sikhs have firmly rooted themselves in Singapore since their arrival from Punjab in the 19th century. Although it is true that the first wave of immigrants were mainly men who joined the Sikh police contingent under the British colonial government, by the first quarter of the twentieth century, they had taken on positions in businesses selling textiles, foodstuffs, electronics, and sporting goods. After their husbands had settled in, women from Punjab state of India also came to Singapore, first taking on important custodian roles as conduits of Sikh craft and oral traditions, and later also becoming professionals that work outside the home.
India’s ambassador to Singapore Gopinath Pillai was also at the event.
The exhibition will run until Sept 30th. Here are 4 things to look out for at exhibition
1. Painting of 10 Sikh gurus
Made of wood, semi-precious stones and pigments in 19th century India, the painting is the pride of the exhibition.
It is borrowed from the renowned Khanuja family collection in the United States, and depicts the 10 spiritual guides, or gurus, of the Sikh faith. The first guru was Guru Nanak in the 15th century.
All 10 gurus spread the faith, set up centres for teaching, codified the holy book, and made sure the practice of langar (free kitchen) was continued.
2. Instrument of Seva Singh Gandharab
The instrument is a Sarangi, a stringed instrument used in Punjabi folk music
Born in Singapore in 1920, Seva Singh was a musician and an accomplished writer of Gurbani, or Sikh hymns, and was a hospital assistant in Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
He was awarded the highest honour in India with a siropa (shawl) in the Golden Temple in Amritsar city for his cultural work, and was also awarded a shield by the Indian Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.
3. A pair of Sikh guard statues from Bukit Brown Cemetery:
Many Chinese graves included statues of Sikh guards as grave guardians, trusting them more than their own deities and reflecting the predominant impression of Sikhs in Singapore.
This pair came from the grave of Madam Yap Woo Neo and were made in the early 20th century.
During colonial times, young Sikh men who were unable to meet recruitment guidelines of the British Sikh contingent became security guards or watchmen, or jaga, which means guard in Malay.
4. Trilogy of films
Three films specially commissioned for the exhibition are on show, presenting new reflections on what it means to be a Sikh in Singapore.
Titled Being Sikh, the trilogy focuses on the role of women, tradition and faith. The first, for instance, tells the story of an elderly woman who witnessed many historical events and through this, highlights women’s role as agents of stability and family well-being.
The films are produced by award-winning filmmakers Upneet Kaur Nagpal and writer Balli Kaur Jaswal.