Little India is also known as Tekka to the older generation, hence the names “Tekka Market” and “Tekka Mall” (now known as “The Verge”). It is a melting pot of culture and cuisine of everything Indian in Singapore and is a visual and aural delight to the senses. The area also offers important insight into Indian community and culture in Singapore.
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Race Course Road Singapore 218537
Our Little India Map is the first in our TheSmartLocal series of maps to be produced. Download the full-sized map here!
The origins of Little India can be traced back to the early 1800s. Some of the very first settlers were previously prisoners under the British Empire sent from India. After serving their time, they were given the choice to return home or go back - and they had chosen to stay on in Singapore. Others were labourers who came from India for work who had also chosen to stay on at the end of their jobs. The majority of the first settlers came from the eastern part of South India where Tamil is commonly spoken. That is why, like other Ethnic Indians in Singapore who have settled in other areas, most speak Tamil. The Little India we know today has many Tamil cultural elements.
It was these first settlers who contributed greatly in building the very first Singapore hospitals, buildings and temples, many of which remain today. The Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, was built in 1855 by Tamil labourers. The restored temple remains today in the middle of Little India - the only temple in walking distance of Little India MRT. It was dedicated to the Goddess Kali and its chief deity was chosen as Sri Veeramakaliamman, and she is also known as the Destroyer of Evil. Back then it provided these Indians an important avenue to recreate a part of their home in Singapore.
As Little India was located near Serangoon river, it was suitable for cattle rearing and agriculture and much of this area was originally focused in this livestock trade. Today, Little India's main stretch activity can be found along Serangoon Road between little india and Fareer Park MRT. The main area of activity is the part closest to Little India MRT, around Tekka Market, Little India Arcade and Campbell Street.
If you’re arriving from the MRT, take exit E. This will take directly to Race Course Road.
Where to eat?
Start your day off with some hearty Indian cuisine. A recommended eatery is the famed Banana Leaf Apolo, a mid range eatery ($10-15 SGD) that is famous for its Fish Head Curry. A cheaper alternative is the vegetarian (under $6 SGD) Komala Villas that serves rice and dosai sets. For an “authentic experience”, make sure you eat at the original Komala Villas branch and not the fast food air conditioned branch further down the road.
Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple
After that make your way to the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple that many sought refuge in during the Japanese aerial assaults in World War 2. Legend has it those within escaped from the bombings unscathed. Photography without flash is allowed, just remember this is an actual praying place be discreet about it. You also have to take off your shoes before you enter all temples in Singapore.
Tekka Centre / Market
Next you would have to backtrack a bit, going to Tekka Market. On the first level they have a market and hawker centre but its the second level where you really want to be. Be prepared to be flooded by an avalanche of colors with nearly the entire level being dedicated to Indian style clothing. Marvel at the intricate patterns and designs and perhaps take a colorful scarf or hand-embroidered sari home as a souvenir.
Little India Arcade
Cross the street and skip The Verge, a newly built and empty modern day shopping centre that sticks out like a sore thumb in Little India for all the wrong reasons. Head over to Little India Arcade, an single level open shopping area lined with street type stalls.
It’s kinda like Bugis Street Market but for Indians, with pretty flowers and colorful accessories, beads and sequins of a myraid of shapes and colors. Perhaps you could even get yourself a Henna tattoo for under $5 at one of the many beauty shops! Henna tattoos last between 2 to 4 weeks. They are traditionally worn during social and holiday celebrations by young women.
The beauty service area at Selvis.
I would give the other inner streets of Little India a miss, mostly because everything you see there is either on the main street already or readily available and probably at a cheaper rate at Mustafa centre. If I have just one street to recommend, it would be walking down Campbell lane just next to Little India Arcade. It was named after a British officer Sir Colin Campbell and is home to the iconic Jothi's department store.
In the lower lanes you will find rows of shops selling everything from market produce to handicraft alongside fresh garlands of flowers with fragrant smells. In the months before and after Deepavali (Also known as the festival of lights), this road transforms into a bustling street market, seamlessly becoming an extension of Little India Arcade. Take a rest and have a cup of hot masala tea along the street to complete your experience.
A $6 dollar barber shop!
The final destination would be Mustafa Centre, located a bus stop or 15 mins walk away from the main Little India area. The owner Mr.Mustaq Ahmad originally opened his store in Serangoon Plaza, renting the 40,000 sq ft basement. Its success was so resounding that he started expanding first by buying the nearby shops ones by one. After a while, he bought every shop in the immediate area until he had the whole row. He then built the 70,000 sq ft Mustafa Centre that we know today. It is the only hypermart in Singapore that is opened every second, every day of the week and it is enormous in size and variety housing endless rows of products from anything you can think of. The modern day City Square Mall is also in the vicinity, an eco-friendly mall far superior to “The Verge” and the home of Farrer Park MRT - if you’re looking to depart from Little India.
Lastly, if you’re looking for affordable accommodation check out Wanderlust - an experimental boutique hotel. A fun fact - each of the four levels of the hotel is themed with names such as “Industrial Glam” and “Eccentricity”. They were designed by an award-winning Singaporean design agencies. It is also a hit with our TSL members and the favourite staycation hotel of recently featured blogger missuschewy.
One of the charms of Little India is that it remains true to its culture and heritage and is thankfully still free from commercial exploitation. With a myriad of sights and sounds at every turn, it is a must-visit for anyone wanting to immerse themselves in Indian culture. A visit to Little India will instantly transport you to a faraway land of mystic charm and you will find it hard to believe that you’re still in Singapore.
Also check out what our members have to say on Little India's TSL Page!
Little India Photo Gallery