Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hall
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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 of Singapore, the building was opened by British High Commissioner Malcolm MacDonald on 25 April 1953. The building was occupied by the Singapore Indian Development Association during the 1990s before standing vacant for a number of years. The Hindi Society took up the building 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.
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.
In addition, the substantial 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.
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.
Shortly after, M. Lobo, a welfare worker and a member of the executive of the Women’s Section of the Singapore Regional Indian Congress, proposed the establishment of a Gandhi Memorial Institute comprising an assembly hall, a school, a women’s centre and a library. The proposal was supported by a meeting of the Women’s Section of the Singapore Regional Indian Congress on 5 February 1948, as well as the Indian Chamber of Commerce and the sponsors of the statue fund.
The Gandhi Memorial Committee of Singapore was subsequently established to collect funds and appoint trustees. Comprising a number of prominent Indians in Singapore, the committee was led by R. Jumabhoy as president, G. Maganlal as treasurer, and J. M. Dorai Raj as secretary.
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.
The Gandhi Memorial Fund eventually 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 ft2 of freehold land at Race Course Lane for $32,000. It also drew up plans for two buildings: one was to house a library, hall, stage and offices, while the other would be rented out and the income used for charitable purposes.
The foundation stone of the memorial was laid by 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 eventual winner of the tender, Chio Eng Quee, built the memorial for $107,000. The building process went smoothly, although the contractor sued for bankruptcy several years after the memorial was completed and claimed that he had lost $4,000 in the deal.
The memorial was completed in 1953. It was officially opened by British Commissioner-General to Southeast Asia Malcolm MacDonald on 25 April 1953.
Events and occupants
In the 1950s and 1960s, an annual public meeting was held at the memorial to commemorate the anniversary of Gandhi’s death. Prominent community leaders such as Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Minister for Culture S. Rajaratnam and University of Malaya Vice-Chancellor Sir Sydney Caine 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. As recently as 2007, groups of Singaporeans paid tribute to Gandhi on his birthday and garlanded the bust that stands within the memorial.
In September 1990, the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) was established to provide community services such as tuition programmes for underprivileged Indian children. In its early days, it was headquartered at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hall. In May 1993, the SINDA Family Service Centre relocated to the memorial building. The centre provided family counselling services and ran public outreach programmes, among other services. SINDA moved from the memorial building to its current location at Beatty Road in April 1998.
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.
After SINDA moved out of the memorial building in 1998, it stood vacant 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. Following this, the society raised S$1 million for the restoration of the building, which began in 2009. The restored building was inaugurated by President S. R. Nathan on 22 January 2011. The memorial building now houses the offices of the Hindi Society as well as classrooms and a multi-purposed hall. The Singapore National Library Board helped to revamp the library, which now contains 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 memorial library.
Joanna HS Tan and Faizah bte Zakaria
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(Call no.: English 954.035092)
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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.
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Historic Buildings
Gandhi, Mahatma, 1869-1948--Influence
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