Unravelling the tapestry of ancient Indian crafts and traditions in Singapore

Singaporeans have got the rare opportunity to immerse themselves in ancient Indian craft traditions and artefacts dating back 5,000 years at special exhibition ‘Symbols and Scripts: The Language of Craft’ starting from tomorrow till June 30, 2018. The exhibition is being organised by the Indian Heritage Centre (IHC) in Singapore. The vibrant culture will also be showcased at the CultureFest 2017.

Moreover, IHC has specially engaged 15 expert craftspeople from India to offer visitors an opportunity to witness ancient crafts being practiced up close, through fortnightly demonstrations.

An abkhora (water bowl) with lid and plate
An abkhora (water bowl) with lid and plate is believed to possess healing powers because they are fully inscribed with verses from the Holy Quran. Photo courtesy: IHC.

Visitors can unravel the tapestry of time with a trip to the Indus Valley Civilisation and decipher the mysteries of enduring scripts and symbols from long ago through this exhibition. About 140 rare artefacts, including jewellery, textiles and painting styles are on display that demonstrate the pervasive influence of handcrafting traditions across a wide variety of areas, such as fashion, trade and writing.  

A square seal depicting an engraved unicorn with incense burner and an inscription with 5 pictograms
A square seal depicting an engraved unicorn with incense burner and an inscription with 5 pictograms belonging to Indus Valley Civilisation. Photo courtesy: IHC

The collection of rare artefacts are on loan from the National Museum of India and will be displayed in Singapore for the first time.   

Each artefact tells a story, and is sure to fascinate with exquisite designs, including elaborate ancient Indus and Brahmi scripts, and familiar motifs in Indian crafts such as the lotus and the mango. Artefact highlights include intricately carved 5,000-year-old seals, etched with beautiful and ancient symbols such as a swastika and the mythical unicorn

Trudy Loh, Director of Heritage Institutions at the National Heritage Board, said, “We celebrate the rich and diverse heritage of the Indian community in Singapore, as well as that of the larger global Indian diaspora. We hope such a showcase will interest Singaporeans, especially the young, to get involved, so as to keep these craft traditions alive and flourishing.”

A manga malai (necklace with mango motifs) is a typical example of Tamil jewellery worn for celebratory occasions.
A manga malai (necklace with mango motifs) is a typical example of Tamil jewellery worn for celebratory occasions. Photo courtesy: IHC

Indian Heritage Centre will also bring about 15 expert craftspeople from India to offer visitors an opportunity to witness ancient carts being practised including bidri (artists etch intricate designs and calligraphy on metal surfaces before filling them in with fine silver wires), kavad (painted shrine used as a story-telling device), kani sozni (is a technique of handloom weaving with bobbins of coloured threads to create floral patterns on shawl popular in Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir), pattachitra (traditional cloth-based scroll painting technique used in Indian state of Odisha), leather craft, terracotta craft, kottan (palm leaf craft).

Cartographic overview of the Satrunjaya temple which is considered the most sacred pilgrimage site for the Jain community of the Swetambara sect.
Cartographic overview of the Satrunjaya temple which is considered the most sacred pilgrimage site for the Jain community of the Swetambara sect. Photo courtesy: IHC

In addition to this, IHC has commissioned Singapore-based artist and ceramicist Madhvi Subramanian to create Ode to the Unknown - a contemporary art installation comprising a wall of rubber-tapping cups made of clay.

The installation pays tribute to the Indian and Chinese labourers in Singapore who worked in rubber plantations, and combines Chinese and Indian elements to celebrate the multicultural aspect of our Singapore heritage.  

Moreover, people can enjoy the richness of Indian culture through CultureFest starting from December 7 and continue till December 17. Revolving around the theme of Rasa (aesthetic essence), the festival presents exciting activities that unite crafts traditions through a showcase of music and dance. These include a live performance with interactive segments, based on Panchatantra folk tales unveil hidden stories of Indian folklore, told by actors donning elaborate masks which will provide for a unique, immersive cultural experience.

There will also be workshops on calligraphy and leather crafting by Rajiv Kumar and Sindhe Sreeramulu respectively. Visitors to try their hand at different Indian crafts. There will be mask-themed workshop and performance on December 9.

There will also be a ‘Little India Heritage Trail’ on December 12 and 14 providing visitors with an in-depth perspective of the historical and cultural precinct through a guided tour led by experienced docents.  

Author
Ashraf Jamal
Ashraf Jamal – Senior Writer

Ashraf Jamal brings a rare depth to writing equipped with a degree in journalism, a postgraduate degree in political science, and a degree in law from the Allahabad University. His experience includes editing and publishing the Northern India Patrika and writing for Times of India for almost a decade covering just about any topic under the sun including NRIs and Indian diaspora.

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