Pillai’s Background and Arrival in Singapore

Naraina Pillai
Naraina Pillai

A Businessman and Community Leader

A businessman known for his success in the construction and cotton industries. He was also an Indian community leader who contributed to the building of the Sri Mariamman Temple.

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A Businessman and Community Leader

It has been a month since I arrived in Singapore from Penang, and things seem bleak. I still remember the moment when William Farquhar received us at Singapore’s harbour—soldiers stood at attention as Sir Stamford Raffles greeted town officers. It was quite a sight! They even prepared a 17-gun salute
This variation of the customary gun salutes is reserved for official persons including governors within their respective states or territories, the viceroy or governor-general of provinces belonging to foreign states, the general of the army, the admiral of the navy, and their counterparts of similar rank in foreign armies and navies.
.…
An Indian Carpenter in Penang
Circa June 1819
There is absolutely nothing in Singapore—just an untidy plain cleared of trees and grass. The land is scarce, except for the soldiers’ bamboo and grass huts as well as some scattered defence installations and tents. The inland is completely covered with thick jungle. I had to build my own shelter or spend the night sleeping in the open. There’s no shame in leaving. Many of us have come to Singapore and left, as there was little chance of earning a living here. Why don’t you come home to Penang?
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Pillai’s Two Successful Businesses in Singapore

Naraina Pillai
Naraina Pillai

A Businessman and Community Leader

A businessman known for his success in the construction and cotton industries. He was also an Indian community leader who contributed to the building of the Sri Mariamman Temple.

Explore

A Businessman and Community Leader

Just arrived home from another long day at work, rushing between my brick kiln and the cotton shop at the bazaar
Naraina Pillai owned a shop that sold cotton goods at a marketplace. It was located where Cross Street is today in the Central Business District.
. What a fulfilling day! This past year has been full of blessings, and I am incredibly thankful for my flourishing businesses. What luck it is to have good business…
A British Merchant
Circa 1820
Pillai, my friend! It’s always a pleasure doing business with you. It is truly quite astute of you to start a brick kiln in Singapore. If I’m not mistaken, that technically makes you Singapore’s first contractor!
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The Bazaar Fire that Affected Pillai’s Livelihood

Naraina Pillai
Naraina Pillai

A Businessman and Community Leader

A businessman known for his success in the construction and cotton industries. He was also an Indian community leader who contributed to the building of the Sri Mariamman Temple.

Explore
shared The Colonial Times's post

A Businessman and Community Leader

I woke up to frantic news that the bazaar was on fire. I ran there quickly, but I could not get near my shop. The bugles sounded, and soldiers hurried to the scene, forming a line from the river and trying to extinguish the flames bucket by bucket. Most shops—including my own—were destroyed. I stood in the ruins and poked through the remains. Everything was ravaged. Any cloth that escaped the fire was soiled by the water and unsellable. I received these cotton goods on credit. I must speak to my partners about the lost stocks…

The Bazaar Fire that Affected Pillai’s Livelihood

The Colonial Times

Distraught witnesses watched from a distance as last night’s bazaar fire set the city’s marketplace ablaze. The fire was eventually extinguished in the early hours of this morning. However, many stall owners have reported that irreparable damage has been done, with hundreds and thousands of dollars worth of goods and…
A British Merchant
Apr 1823
My fellow British partners and I appreciate that you approached us to work out a solution for the debt incurred from the loss of your cotton goods. We empathise with your predicament, and agree to a five-year repayment period for you to pay off your debts.

Pillai’s Establishment of Sri Mariamman Temple

Naraina Pillai
Naraina Pillai

A Businessman and Community Leader

A businessman known for his success in the construction and cotton industries. He was also an Indian community leader who contributed to the building of the Sri Mariamman Temple.

Explore

A Businessman and Community Leader

Hindu settlers in Singapore need a place of worship to share their faith, socialise and celebrate festivities
Besides temple festivities, the Hindu firewalking festival Theemithi has been held at Sri Mariamman Temple annually till today since 1840. This religious practice involves devotees walking across a fire pit in exchange for a wish or blessing to be granted by the goddess Draupadi. Firewalkers make the five-kilometre walk from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple to the Sri Mariamman Temple, where they would cross a 3m-long fire pit.
. I first applied for land to build a temple
Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple sits in the heart of Chinatown. Originally constructed out of wood with a roof of attap palm fronds, the temple was reconstructed with bricks by Indian convict labourers in 1843, while the plasterwork was crafted by Madras artisans. The original gopuram (grand tower entrance) built in the late 1800s had no significant ornamental works. In the 1930s, it was rebuilt and in 1962, a new temple structure was developed with intricate sculptures resembling India’s traditional temple architecture. The Sri Mariamman Temple is dedicated to the goddess Mariamman, known for her power to cure diseases and illnesses.
in 1821. We were granted land along Telok Ayer Street, but it lacked a convenient fresh water supply for rituals. With William Farquhar’s allowance,…
An Indian Lighterman
1827
This is great news, especially after the first two potential locations at Telok Ayer Street and Stamford Road Canal didn’t work out. The temple will be a grand place where my fellow countrymen and I can gather for worship! I must spread the good news to the other Indian lightermen
One of Singapore’s first major service industries, the lighterage industry was crucial for port operations and providing employment. From 1819 to 1900, South Indian boatmen took on this role, many of whom were recruited directly from the East India Company's ports in Madras and Penang. About 1,750 Indian lightermen worked at the river, constituting about 75 percent of the Indian population. They were considered the most skilled amongst port workers in handling cargo boats, and were the primary group sought after to carry out other laborious tasks in this trade, from maintaining the boats to handling bulky cargo.
working along the Singapore River. They’ll be thrilled!
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