Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hall



Located at 3 Race Course Lane, close to Little India, the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hall was built as a tribute to the leader of India’s independence movement, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869–1948), often referred to as Mahatma Gandhi (mahatma is Sanskrit for “great soul”). Funded by donations from the Indian community in Singapore, the building was opened by then British High Commissioner Malcolm MacDonald on 25 April 1953. In the 1990s, the building was occupied by the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) before standing vacant for a number of years. The Hindi Society took up the lease in 2008 and restored the building between 2009 and 2010. It was conferred conservation status on 30 April 2010, and re-opened on 22 January 2011.1

Gandhis influence
Gandhi espoused non-violent civil intervention in the struggle for India’s independence, and tolerance and compassion for peoples of all creeds. Although he never visited Southeast Asia, his life and ideas were a source of inspiration to many people in Singapore and Malaya.2


In addition, the Indian communities in Singapore and Malaya at the time had strong links to India and supported Gandhi’s call for independence from British rule. When he was assassinated on 30 January 1948, there was an outpouring of grief within the region, with crowds gathering in temples and fields for last-rite ceremonies, up to 13 days after his death.3

Building the memorial
Proposals on ways to pay tribute to Gandhi emerged soon after his death. At a mass meeting of thousands of mourners at Waterloo Street on 31 January 1948, Indian community leader R. Jumabhoy announced the establishment of a fund to collect $100,000 to erect a statue of Gandhi in Singapore.4


Shortly after, Mrs M. Lobo, an executive member of the Women’s Section of the Singapore Regional Indian Congress, proposed the establishment of a Gandhi Memorial Institute comprising an assembly hall, school, women’s centre and library. The proposal was supported by the Women’s Section at a meeting on 5 February 1948, as well as by the Indian Chamber of Commerce, the sponsor of the statue fund.5

The Gandhiji Memorial Fund Committee was subsequently established to collect funds and appoint trustees. Comprising a number of prominent Indians in Singapore, the committee was led by Jumabhoy as president, G. Maganlal as treasurer and J. M. Dorai Raj as secretary.6

The memorial in its final form, however, was the idea of the chief inspector’s wife, Padma Ramakrishnan, who won a $100 prize in September 1949 for her suggestion of a Gandhi Memorial comprising an assembly hall and a library containing books by and about Gandhi.7

The Gandhi Memorial Fund raised around $117,390, more than the initial target of $100,000 but less than the revised target of $250,000. In May 1950, the committee purchased 7,325 sq ft of freehold land at Race Course Lane for $32,000. It also drew up plans for two buildings: one to house a library, hall, stage and offices, and the other to be rented out and the income used for charitable purposes.8

The foundation stone of the memorial (the building housing the library, hall, stage and offices) was laid by then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru on 18 June 1950, during a visit to Singapore. Jumabhoy announced tenders for the construction of the memorial in November that year. The winning bid was submitted by contractor Chio Eng Quee, who built the memorial for $107,000. The building process went smoothly, although the contractor filed for bankruptcy several years after the memorial was completed, claiming that he had lost $4,000 in the deal.9

The memorial was completed in 1953. It was officially opened by Malcolm MacDonald, then British Commissioner-General to Southeast Asia, on 25 April 1953.10

Events and occupants
After its opening in 1953, a public event was held at the memorial on 2 October 1954 to commemorate the anniversary of Gandhi’s birthday. For a number of years, this event had taken place annually on the same date at the memorial. Prominent community leaders such as Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Minister for Culture S. Rajaratnam and University of Malaya Vice-Chancellor Sydney Caine had attended the gatherings and addressed the crowd. During these events, there were frequent references to Gandhi’s significance as a world figure and the importance of his message of non-violence and tolerance. In October 2007, a group of Singaporeans paid tribute to Gandhi on his birthday and garlanded his bust at the memorial.11


In September 1990, SINDA was established to provide community services, such as tuition programmes, for under-privileged Indian children. In its early days, the association was headquartered at the memorial, on the ground floor of the building. In May 1993, the SINDA Family Service Centre also relocated to the memorial building. Both SINDA and its family service centre moved to bigger premises at Beatty Road in April 1998.12

Building features and later developments
The memorial is a brick building designed in the Modern style, with Art Deco influences. The building exterior features a wall relief of Gandhi. A bronze bust of Gandhi mounted on a marble pillar stands inside the building.13


After SINDA and the family service centre vacated the memorial building, it stood empty for a number of years. In 2008, the Hindi Society negotiated a lease with the trustees of the memorial for the use of the building. The society raised $1 million for the restoration of the building, which began in 2009. The building was awarded conservation status on 30 April 2010. Then President S. R. Nathan inaugurated the restored building on 22 January 2011. The memorial building now houses the offices of the Hindi Society as well as classrooms, a multi-purpose hall and the Mahatma Gandhi Library. The National Library Board helped to revamp the library, which has books in English, Hindi, Tamil and Chinese on the life and work of Gandhi. The government of India also donated Gandhi’s collected works to the library.14



Authors
Joanna HS Tan & Faizah bte Zakaria




References
1. Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Building (restored) Singapore: Inauguration by His Excellency Mr S R Nathan. (2011). Singapore: Hindi Society (Singapore), p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 MAH-[SRN]); Suryanarayana, P. S. (2011, January 23). Gandhi Memorial in Singapore restored. The Hindu. Retrieved from Factiva
via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; ‘Gross act of war’ says Mr MacDonald. (1953, April 26). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Suryanarayana, P. S. (2011, January 23). Gandhi Memorial in Singapore restored. The Hindu. Retrieved from Factiva
via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/.
3. Colony’s women honour Gandhi. (1948, February 6). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Mourning for Gandhi reaches climax. (1948, February 13). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Building (restored) Singapore: Inauguration by His Excellency Mr S R Nathan. (2011). Singapore: Hindi Society (Singapore), p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 MAH-[SRN])
5. Hindi Society Singapore. (2014). History of the Hindi Society (Singapore). Retrieved 2016, July 21 from The Hindi Society (Singapore) website: http://www.hindi-society.com/about-us/; Woman proposes Gandhi Institute. (1948, February 4). The Straits Times, p. 5; Colony’s women honour Gandhi. (1948, February 6). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. $69,596 for memorial to Gandhi. (1948, March 3). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Building (restored) Singapore: Inauguration by His Excellency Mr S R Nathan. (2011). Singapore: Hindi Society (Singapore), p. 5. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 MAH-[SRN]); Gandhi prize winner. (1949, September 19). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. In memory of Gandhi. (1950, June 1). The Straits Times, p. 7; Tenders soon for Gandhi Memorial. (1950, November 14). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Down, down went his profits. (1955, August 13). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Building (restored) Singapore: Inauguration by His Excellency Mr S R Nathan. (2011). Singapore: Hindi Society (Singapore), pp. 6–7. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 MAH-[SRN])
10. ‘Gross act of war’ says Mr MacDonald. (1953, April 26). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Building (restored) Singapore: Inauguration by His Excellency Mr S R Nathan. (2011). Singapore: Hindi Society (Singapore), p. 8. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 MAH-[SRN])
11. Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Building (restored) Singapore: Inauguration by His Excellency Mr S R Nathan. (2011). Singapore: Hindi Society (Singapore), pp. 3, 9. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 MAH-[SRN]); ‘Be as tolerant as the Mahatma’ – Caine. (1954, October 3). The Straits Times, p. 5; Remembering Gandhi. (2007, October 4). The Straits Times, p. 33. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Hindi Society Singapore. (2014). History of the Hindi Society. (Singapore). Retrieved 2016, July 21 from The Hindi Society (Singapore) website: http://www.hindi-society.com/about-us/
12. Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Building (restored) Singapore: Inauguration by His Excellency Mr S R Nathan. (2011). Singapore: Hindi Society (Singapore), pp. 5, 9. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 MAH-[SRN]); Hindi Society Singapore. (2014). History of the Hindi Society. (Singapore). Retrieved 2016, July 21 from The Hindi Society (Singapore) website: http://www.hindi-society.com/about-us/; Sinda’s family centre moves to Little India. (1993, May 29). The Straits Times, p. 36; $3.4 million for Sinda. (1999, March 13). The Straits Times, p. 46. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Building (restored) Singapore: Inauguration by His Excellency Mr S R Nathan. (2011). Singapore: Hindi Society (Singapore), pp. 5, 9–11. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 MAH-[SRN])
14. Bright welcome for restored Gandhi building. (2011, January 23). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Hindi Society (Singapore). (2014). History of the Hindi Society (Singapore). Retrieved 2016, July 21 from The Hindi Society (Singapore) website: http://www.hindi-society.com/about-us/; Urban Redevelopment Authority. (2016, July 19). Jalan Besar. Retrieved 2016, July 21 from Urban Redevelopment Authority website: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/conservation/conservation-xml.aspx?id=JLNBSR; Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Building (restored) Singapore: Inauguration by His Excellency Mr S R Nathan. (2011). Singapore: Hindi Society (Singapore), pp. 9, 11. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 MAH-[SRN])




Further resources
Gandhi, M. K. (1959). An autobiography, or the story of my experiments with truth. Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House.

(Call no.: RCLOS 954.035092 GAN-[LKY])

Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, Singapore [Souvenir]. (1953). Singapore: Gandhiji Memorial Committee.
(Call no.: RCLOS 954.03 GAN.G)



The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Historic buildings--Singapore
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Historic Buildings
Memorials--Singapore
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Gandhi, Mahatma, 1869-1948--Influence
Historic buildings
Arts>>Architecture>>Public and commercial buildings