Naraina Pillai



Naraina (Narayana)1 Pillai (Pillay) was the first Indian to set foot in Singapore in 1819. He started out as the chief clerk at the treasury and eventually became the first building contractor in Singapore and is credited with the construction of the Sri Mariamman Temple at South Bridge Road.2

Major accomplishments
Early career

The Indians in Singapore are the third largest community today,3 but when Pillai first came to Singapore in June 1819 on the Indiana with Stamford Raffles, the only other Indians were the soldiers who had accompanied Raffles. Attracted by Raffles’s persuasive ideals of Singapore, Pillai left Penang, Malaysia only to find he had to start from scratch. The other Indians who had come with him soon returned to their homes in Penang. Pillai began as chief clerk at the treasury, or shroff, where he checked coins for authenticity. When the Resident’s shroff arrived from Malacca, Pillai was discharged.4

Brick kiln and building contractor
Noting the quick rate of houses being built, he started a brick kiln by Mount Erskine (now Tanjong Pagar), writing to his friends in Penang for bricklayers, carpenters and cloth merchants. He thus started Singapore’s first brick company and became the first Indian building contractor in Singapore.5

Cotton bazaar
He also sold cotton goods at Cross Street and, with the arrival of British merchants who allowed him to hold large amounts of cloth on credit, his bazaar became the largest and best-known in Singapore. However, in 1822, his bazaar was burnt to the ground in a fire that razed the area. He persuaded the British merchants to let him repay them in five years. All but John Morgan agreed, but within two years Pillai was able to repay Morgan the S$2,000 he owed.6

Social contributions
Pillai sought Raffles’s help upon the return of the latter to Singapore, reminding him that it was he who had persuaded Pillai to come to Singapore. In response, Raffles provided him with prime land in the city centre at Commercial Square (present-day Raffles Place). Here Pillai built his new godown and started his business afresh.7 Despite being impoverished, Pillai had a vision to build a Hindu temple, and paid some monies for the land.8 The original site for the temple was at Telok Ayer Street but it did not have the necessary fresh water required for rituals. A temporary spot by Stamford Canal was given in 1821 before the South Bridge Road site was confirmed in 1823.9 This temple is the Sri Mariamman Temple, which has been gazetted as a National Monument.10 Pillai also had a similar vision to set up a Hindu Institute to educate Indian boys.11

Awards
Pillai gained recognition as a leader among the Indians and was appointed chief of Indians from Cholamandalaman, with the authority to settle disputes among the Tamils.12



Author

Bonny Tan



References
1. Lim, J. (2007, April 24). Bold and beautiful. The Straits Times, p. 107. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. He built the Sri Mariamman Temple. (1983, November 6). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Singapore Department of Statistics. (2015). Yearbook of Statistics, Singapore. Retrieved 2016, May 14 from Singapore Department of Statistics website: http://www.singstat.gov.sg/publications/publications-and-papers/reference/yearbook-of-statistics-singapore
4. Brazil, D. (1991). Street smart: Singapore. Singapore: Times Books International, pp. 25‒26. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BRA-[HIS]); Pearson, H. F. (1955). People of early Singapore. Singapore: London: University of London Press, pp. 103‒104. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 PEA-[HIS])
5. Brazil, D. (1991). Street smart: Singapore. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 26. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BRA-[HIS]); Pearson, H. F. (1955). People of early Singapore. Singapore: London: University of London Press, p. 105. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 PEA-[HIS])
6. Brazil, D. (1991). Street smart: Singapore. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 26. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BRA-[HIS]); Pearson, H. F. (1955). People of early Singapore. Singapore: London: University of London Press, pp. 106‒107. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 PEA-[HIS])
7. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 115. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU); Pearson, H. F. (1955). People of early Singapore. Singapore: London: University of London Press, pp. 107‒108. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 PEA-[HIS])
8. Pearson, H. F. (1955). People of early Singapore. Singapore: London: University of London Press, p. 108. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 PEA-[HIS])
9. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 115. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)
10. Lim, J. (2007, April 24). Bold and beautiful. The Straits Times, p. 107. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Brazil, D. (1991). Street smart: Singapore. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 26, (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BRA-[HIS]); Pearson, H. F. (1955). People of early Singapore. Singapore: London: University of London Press, p. 108. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 PEA-[HIS])
12. Liu, G. (1996). In granite and chunam: The national monuments of Singapore. Singapore: Landmark Books and Preservation of Monuments Board, p. 115. (Call no.: RSING 725.94095957 LIU)



Further resources
Netto, G. (1961). Indians in Malaya: Historical facts and figures. Singapore: George Netto.
(Call no.: RCLOS 331.62540595 NET)

Oldest place for the Hindus. (1981, December 13). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Pioneer Naraina Pillai should be honoured. (1990, February 21). The Straits Times, p. 14. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore’s heritage: Through places of historical interest. Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service.

(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS])



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we can 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
History>>Asia>>Southeast Asia>>Singapore
Narayana Pillay
Pioneers
Pioneers--Singapore--Biography
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Businessmen--Singapore--Biography
Personalities>>Biographies>>Pioneers