This is Ilyas. I barely spoke with him for half an hour, but as we parted, he bade me goodbye with this: “Sister, whenever you are around, this is your home. Visit anytime. Sit in the meditation room and enjoy the quiet. Sister, you are always welcome”.
Nagore Dargah Indian Muslim Heritage Centre sits quietly at the edge of Telok Ayer Street, next to Thian Hock Keng temple (which is next to Al Abrar mosque, and a little further down the road from Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church – hooray for multi-culturalism!). The 2-storey white building is made of limestone, and is a replica of a shrine in Tamil Naidu, India, where much of Singapore’s early Indian-Muslims community came from.
The building itself, which was built in 1828, pays homage to these early settlers, and has 3 minarets, representing the 3 masts that were often on the ships of the early immigrants. Every mosque has a minaret; it is where the call to prayer is made, and it is made 5 times a day.
As the Nagore Shrine, it catered to the country’s Indiam Muslim pioneers. Today it serves as Nagore Dargah Indiam Muslim Heritage Centre, dedicated to sharing the story of the history of the Indian Muslim community in Singapore.
I was intruiged by the little holes in the walls, each holding a little crafted cup of silver. I’m told they are called madams (pronounced “madum” and not “madam” as you would address a lady); Ilyas explained that in old houses in Tamil Naidu, they were oil lamps but have mostly been replaced, thanks to electricity. In the Heritage Centre, they are used to hold perfumed oils and visitors are more than welcome to dip their fingers in and apply the oils to the back of their hands.
There are no interactive games. There is no dedicated children’s area. There is no cafe. There are no fun colouring sheets. I do not believe that as parents, we should make a decision on whether or not to visit a place with children based on how ‘child-friendly’ it is. For this particular venue, adults would find it beautiful and calming, however it is hard to imagine anyone under the age of 10 truly appreciating it all.
If ever you are in the area, feel free to visit and take a little perfumed oil from the madam, apply it on the back of your hand, and sit in the meditation room while you ponder over life’s priorities. Or as Ilyas would say, “Just enjoy the aircon!”.
Nagore Dargah Indian Muslim Heritage Centre is located at the junction of Telok Ayer Street and Boon Tat Street. It is a 10-minute walk from Tanjong Pagar MRT station (take exit G) and walk past Al-Abrar Mosque, then Thian Hock Keng temple.
Opening hours are Monday to Friday, 10am to 6pm, and 10am to 2pm on weekends. Admission is free. Photography is allowed. Speak with Ilyas! He would gladly share more information with you.
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