Serangoon Road



Serangoon Road is one of the earliest roads built in Singapore.1 It passes through Singapore's Little India, which is the commercial, cultural and religious centre for both the local and foreign Indian community in Singapore. It also served as a highway between town and the Serangoon harbour in the northeast.2

History
Little India was not planned as a designated area for the Indian community, unlike Chinatown and Kampong Glam that had been set aside for the Chinese and Malay communities respectively. However, the life around Serangoon Road eventually led to the development of the Indian community there. Serangoon Road was described in an 1828 map of Singapore as "the road leading across the island". It was built as a link between the settlements in town and the Serangoon harbour, an important harbour on the Johor Straits. The harbour provided access to the once-lucrative lumber and quarry trades in Pulau Ubin and Johor.3


During the 1820s, the area became an industrial area for the brick kiln trade and cattle farming, which were carried out mostly by Indians. By 1826, thousands of Indians had come to Serangoon Road to work as construction workers and farmers. The majority of Indians who came to Singapore were either South Indian Muslims or middle caste Hindus. The first recorded brick kiln business in Singapore was said to have been established by Narayana Pillai, an Indian who arrived in Singapore in 1819. Cattle farmers were attracted to the area due to the presence of abundant water and grassland, which made it suitable for cattle farming.4

Subsequently, kiln businesses and cattle farming were discontinued in the 1860s and in 1936 respectively by the government. Despite the closure of these industries, most of the Indians who had gone to work at Serangoon Road continued to reside there. By 1880, the Indian population had grown to a large number, making the area recognisable as an enclave for the Indian community in Singapore.5

Key Features
One of the unique features along Serangoon Road is the architecture of the terrace shophouses with highly decorative facades. They have features that reflect the periods they were built, ranging from the early 1840s to 1960s. Another unique feature of some of these buildings is its smooth surfaces. These were created using a traditional technique of external plasterwork: the Madras chunam, which was made of egg white, shells, lime and sugar. These were mixed together with coconut husks and water and plastered onto the surface of buildings. Upon hardening, the surface was polished with crystal stones, creating a smooth finish.6

One of Singapore's earliest Hindu temples, the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, is located at 397 Serangoon Road. The temple was built in 1885 by Narasingham, who purchased the plot of land from the East India Company.7

Serangoon Road today
Serangoon Road is now part of a conserved area, Little India, which was gazetted on 7 July 1989 by the Urban Redevelopment Authority. The area continues to be the hub for activities of the Indian community. It becomes livelier during weekends and religious festivals such as Thaipusam and Deepavali, when both tourists and locals throng the street.8

Variant Names
Chinese name: Hou Gang Lu or Ow Kung, "Back of the Port Road." It is referred to as Au-Kang in Hokkien and Hau-kong in Cantonese, which means "Back creek".9

Malay name: It is also said to be named after "Ranggong", a Malay name for a bird of the stork species called the adjutant bird or small marsh bird. Others suggest that the name was derived from the Malay phrase di-serang dengan gong, meaning "to attack with gongs or drums", a possible reference to gongs used to scare away animals from the forested area of Serangoon.10



Author

Heirwin Mohd Nasir



References
1. Sharon, S., & Nirmala, S. (Ed.). (1983). Serangoon Road: A pictorial history. Singapore: Educational Publications Bureau. (Call no.: RSING 779.995957 SER)
2. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore). (1995). Little India: Historic district. Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING q363.69095957 LIT)
3. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore). (1995). Little India: Historic district. Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, p. 15. (Call no.: RSING q363.69095957 LIT)
4. Edwards, N., & Peter K. (1996). Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 111–115. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
5. Edwards, N., & Peter K. (1996). Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 111–115. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
6. Edwards, N., & Peter K. (1996). Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 111–115. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
7. Singapore. Preservation of Monuments Board. (1995). National monuments. Singapore: Preservation of Monuments Board Singapore, p. 18. (Call no.: RCLOS 722.4095957 NAT)
8. Urban Redevelopment Authority (Singapore). (1995). Little India: Historic district. Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING q363.69095957 LIT)
9. Edwards, N., & Peter K. (1996). Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places. Singapore: Times Books International, pp.111–115. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
10. Edwards, N., & Peter K. (1996). Singapore: A Guide to Buildings, Streets, Places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])



Further resources
Caldecott Productions International. (1994). Restoring the Singapore shophouse: The "top-down" approach. [Videotape]. Singapore: Urban Redevelopment Authority.
(Call no.: RSING 711.4095957 RES)

Durai Raja Singam S. [1939]. Malayan street names: What they mean and whom they commemorate. [Microfilm no.; NL 18265]. Ipoh: Mercantile Press.

Firmstone, H. W. (1905,February). Chinese names of streets and places in Singapore and the Malay Peninsula. Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 4, 128–129.
(Call no.: RQUIK 959.5 JMBRAS)

Kamble, J. R. (1984). Serangoon Road. [Videotape]. Singapore: J. R. Kamble.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 KAM-[HIS])

Singapore Broadcasting Corporation. (1988, April 13). Changing landscapes: Serangoon. [Videotape]. Singapore: Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 CHA-[HIS])

Singapore Broadcasting Corporation. (1992, August 16). Changing times: Serangoon [Videotape]. Singapore: Singapore Broadcasting Corporation.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 CHA-[HIS])

Tyers, R. (1993). Ray Tyers' Singapore: Then & now. Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TYE-[HIS])



The information in this article is valid as at 1997 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
Street names--Singapore
Streets and Places
Historic sites--Singapore
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Arts>>Architecture>>Religious buildings
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places

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