Stories of My Family - Lecture Series
date28 Feb 2020 - 29 May 2020
placeIndian Heritage Centre

Story Of My Family Lecture Series


My Food Heritage – Indra Iswaran (28 Feb)


Jaffna (Yazhpanam in Tamil) is located in northern Sri Lanka (Ceylon in the past). Tamils from this region included descendants of the old Tamil kingdom of Jaffna, the Vannimais or descendants of chieftains. Most of the early Tamils from Sri Lanka arrived as colonial personnel to Malaya and Singapore. 


Born in Changanai, a market town in Jaffna, Eliyathamby worked as an assistant overseer for the British in Malaya. Eliyathamby’s grandfather Venasithamby and father, Muthuthamby had migrated from Jaffna to Malaya in the 1850s. Eliyathamby subsequently married a relative Meenachi, from Chulipuram. Meenachi and Eliyathamby travelled to Malaya in the 1890s by a sailboat, and their descendants eventually settled in Singapore. Meenachi was a skilled  culinarian, and brought with her cooking implements that were passed through the generations. 


Venasithamby and his descendants have been in Malaya and Singapore for seven generations. Join Indra Iswaran as she narrates the story of her grandparents Meenachi and Eliyathamby, and how Meenachi’s love for food has transcended the following generations.



He Ran a Fleet of Horse Carriages – Chitra Radhakrishnan (27 Mar) - POSTPONED


In the early 19th century, Singapore’s land transport system was comprised mainly bullock carts, horse carriages, jin-rickshaws and bicycles. Sangoo Thevar, Palaniappa Chetty, Sundra Daven, Meydin, Ismail Shah and Syed Ibrahim were some of the Tamil horse carriage contractors. Sangoo Thevar (Sangoo is Tamil for conch) arrived in Singapore in the 1850s with his wife from Mannargudi, Thanjavur. He acquired a fleet of horse carriages and leased them out. 


In the succeeding decades, he amassed a fortune from this business and became a prominent member of the Indian community in Singapore. Sangoo Thevar had six children, Shanmugam Pillai, Parvathi, Regunath, Rajagopal, Lakshmi, and Meenachi Sundram. Sangoo Parvathi's daughter Anjalaiammal married Avadai Thevar, a construction contractor who arrived in Singapore in the early 20th century from Thanjavur, and their daughter, Avadai Dhanam, became the first lady of Singapore as the wife of the late CV Devan Nair, third President of the Republic of Singapore.


Sangoo Thevar and his descendants have been in Singapore for seven generations. Join Chitra Radhakrishnan as she narrates the legacy and story of her family’s settlement in Singapore.


Sangoo Thevar image courtesy of National Museum of Singapore.



We Have Contributed for 150 Years – Dato Paul Supramaniam (24 Apr)


Arumugam Annamalai Pillai was born in Vaddukoddai, Jaffna in 1839. He was educated at St John’s College in Yazhpanam or Jaffna and later graduated as a surveyor in India in 1868.  Annamalai arrived in Singapore in 1875 and became Chief of the Survey department. He introduced the practice of valuing land in Singapore by the square foot as he anticipated the rise in land value as the port city developed. He resigned from colonial service in 1883 and established a leading private practice in partnership with Alfred William Lermit. It is estimated that Annamalai was responsible for surveying three quarters of the land in Singapore.  


Annamalai Pillai’s nephew, Rev JA Supramaniam, married Harriet Navamani Joseph, whose lineage traced back to 13th century Jaffna royalty. Their son Dr JMJ Supramaniam was a pioneer in the management and elimination of tuberculosis in Singapore, and his son, Paul Supramaniam, has recorded his family tree and traced their lineage to Kulasekara Singai Aryan Pararajasekaran Arya Chakravarty, King of Jaffna (1246-56 CE).  


Annamalai Pillai and his descendants have been in Singapore for five generations. Join Dato Paul Supramaniam as he shares the history and legacy of his family. 


The Dairy King – P Sivaraman (29 May)


In 1837, Seetharama Pillay and his son-in-law Kotaiya Kounder, natives of Erode, Tamil Nadu, arrived in Singapore. Koona Kotaiya was a stonemason, and he found employment in the construction industry. Seetharama Pillay acquired land and started a successful dairy farm business at the 9th mile estate around Dairy Farm Road. His grandson, Koona Vayloo Pillay started working for a European, ER Koek. In recognition of his dedication and integrity, Koek 

financed and supported Koona Vayloo Pillay’s own dairy business. 


Alamayloo Sabapathy Pillay, also known as Allamelu aachi, migrated from Mauritius to Singapore with her father Sabapathy Pillai in the second half of the 19th century. In 1890, she married Koona Vayloo Pillay. Pakirisamy Pillai and Narayanasamy Pillai were the sons of Koona Vayloo Pillay, and inherited his estate. 


Seetharama Pillay and his family have been in Singapore for eight generations, making this is one of the oldest Tamil families with an uninterrupted history in Singapore. Today, Koona Vayloo Pillay’s grave is the only Hindu grave to be preserved at the Bidadari Memorial Garden. Join P Sivaraman, his descendant, as he recounts his family’s arrival and eventual establishment in Singapore.