In Singapore, the earliest concentration of Indians was the Indian Sepoy lines located at the foot of Fort Canning Hill and its surroundings. Between 1819 and 1867, Indian settlement was concentrated within the Singapore Town area, with spillage onto the Serangoon Road area.
In addition to the above settlements there were other areas of congregation which were closely linked to the occupations of the Indian community. For instance, the Chulia kampung (known as Kling Street and later as Chulia Street) and Market Street areas were areas of congregation for early traders and private financier communities.
Dhoby Ghaut, as the name suggests, was likewise a place where Indian washermen at the Stamford Canal area converged and congregated, while port and railway workers could be found at Tanjong Pagar and textile merchants at High Street and Arab Street. Sembawang was another area where Naval Base employees lived and worked as late as the 1960s.
Over time, most of the aforesaid areas evolved and underwent dramatic transformations as the nation progressed. With the exception of Serangoon Road, these areas no longer bear any evidence of Indian settlement today.
The Little India Precinct
Bounded by Serangoon and Sungei Roads and Jalan Besar, the Little India precinct spans 13 hectares and is home to 900 conserved buildings. The precinct’s arterial thoroughfare, Serangoon Road, is one of the earliest roads built in Singapore. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the precinct was associated with agricultural activity, brick making, lime quarrying and cattle rearing. The Indian community started to settle in the area back in the 1820s when they were employed to work at the brick kilns and later in the cattle trade. During the 1840s, the construction and operation of the Race Course attracted more members of the Indian community to settle and work in the area.
Despite the predominance of the Indian community, the Little India precinct was also a reflection of Singapore’s cosmopolitan society as Europeans, Eurasians, Chinese and Malays also establishedbusinesses in the area. The precinct’s ethnic diversity is perhaps best reflected in its diverse street names which include Sunnambu Kambam (“lime village” in Tamil), Kandang Kerbau (“cattle pens” in Malay) and Nan Sheng Hua Yuen Pien (“Fringe of Garden in the South” in Mandarin).
The settlement of the Indian community started from Dhoby Ghaut and Selegie Road at one end, spanned Serangoon Road and ended at Potong Pasir. It also included other peripheral areas such as Balestier Road. From the years following World War II to the present, the Little India precinct has transformed itself into a commercial centre catering to the needs of the Indian community.