Singapore leads Gandhi tributes
Beautiful rendition... (Above) The group of
women from Singapore singing the Indian
devotional song Vaishnava Jana To Tene
Kahiye; (far left) people watching the
four-minute film on Gandhi at the Suntec
Convention Centre; (left) Indian High
Commissioner to Singapore Jawed Ashraf
releasing the set of postage stamps
depicting moments from Gandhi’s life.
V.K. SANTOSH KUMAR
AHATMA Gandhi would
surely have loved it.
A group of Chinese musicians
from Singapore playing one of his
favourite songs – Raghupathy Raghav
Raja Ram – with Chinese instruments.
As the world kick-started the two-
year long celebrations to mark the 150th
birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi
on Tuesday, Singapore’s significant con-
tributions towards making the festivities
a resounding success emerged during an
event organised by the Indian High Com-
mission (IHC) at the Suntec Convention
India’s High Commissioner to Singa-
pore Jawed Ashraf revealed that two
videos released by India’s Ministry of Ex-
ternal Affairs (MEA) to highlight the life
and contributions of the “Father of the
Nation” had its origins in Singapore.
When Indian Prime Minister Naren-
dra Modi visited Singapore in June this
year, he unveiled a plaque in memory of
Gandhi along with Emeritus Senior Min-
ister Goh Chok Tong outside Clifford
Pier restaurant at Fullerton Bay Hotel
on June 2.
It was to commemorate the 70 years
since a part of the Indian independence
leader’s ashes were immersed in the wa-
ters off Clifford Pier on March 27, 1948.
During the ceremony to mark the oc-
casion, which was attended by more
than 600 people, the IHC had arranged
the rendition of the Indian devotional
song Raghupathy Raghav Raja Ram,
also called Ram Dhun, which was
widely popularised by Gandhi.
It was performed by a group of Chi-
nese musicians – Ang Kok Wee, Chen
Shanhui Indra, Hoong Rozie, Huang
Ming Xiang and Wong Wai Kit – playing
traditional Chinese musical instru-
“Raghupathy Raghav Raja Ram is an
ode to inclusiveness, multi-cultural rela-
tions, inter-religious harmony, oneness
of all people and a message of peace and
brotherhood,” said Mr Ashraf.
According to him, Mr Modi was so en-
chanted by the beautiful and haunting
tones of the rendition – which was ar-
ranged and conducted by Mr Aravinth
Kumarasamy, the artistic director of Ap-
saras Arts – that he immediately put it up
on his Facebook page.
The posting attracted more than 1.5
“Not only that, the Prime Minister
got us to record it again,” said Mr Ashraf.
“This time in front of the plaque. And
the production that we have is marvel-
The performance is indeed amazing
as the group of Chinese musicians cap-
tures the nuances of an Indian song with
finesse and precision.
Ms Chen, 27, who did the rendition
with the guzheng, a Chinese plucked-
string instrument, said it was the first
time she was performing a classical In-
dian music piece.
“I felt a deep solemness when per-
forming the six-minute rendition (dur-
ing Mr Modi’s visit) and I was surprised
we managed to grab hold of the audi-
ence’s attention. After the performance,
several members of the audience came
up to us and commended us on our beau-
She added: “Playing a classical In-
dian song is a symbol of our racial and re-
Mr Huang, 22, who has been playing
the pipa, a four-stringed Chinese musi-
cal instrument for the past nine years,
said: “Performing for this monumental
occasion made me understand the deep
spirituality behind Gandhi’s favourite
song. We had to make sure we rendered
it accurately and respectfully while
bringing life and colour to the piece.
“It took us around a month to figure
out and prepare for the performance.”
Also on the occasion of the plaque un-
veiling, a group of Indian women sang
another Indian devotional song Vaish-
nava Jana To Tene Kahiye which, along
with Raghupathy Raghav Raja Ram,
formed part of Gandhi’s daily prayer.
“Vaishnava Jana To Tene Kahiye was
written in the 15th century by the poet
Narsinh Mehta in the Gujarati lan-
guage,” said Mr Ashraf.
“It speaks about the attributes of a
good human being, someone who feels
someone else’s pain as his own and some-
one who is there to help others but does
not develop a sense of pride or conceit in
“And that song was so beautifully
sung by the women in Singapore that it
triggered a thought in the Prime Minis-
ter’s mind: I want this sung in every
United Nations member state. Now we
have contributions from 124 countries
and the song is a wonderful medley of
The five-minute mash-up was re-
leased by Mr Modi during the closing of
the four-day Mahatma Gandhi Interna-
tional Sanitation Conference in New
Delhi on Tuesday.
It has voices and tunes from across
the world, including from the group of
Singapore women – Aarthi Ajaykumar,
Chitrapoornima Sathish, Gayathri
Sivaraman, Mundarigi Seshagiri Vidya,
Srividya Sriram and Sushma So-
In the days leading up to the 149th
birth anniversary of Gandhi, Indian mis-
sions and embassies in 124 countries got
in touch with local artistes and got them
to sing Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye.
The final five-minute video features
voices from 40 countries, with every re-
gion of the world being represented by
short clips of local artistes.
“The result is an eclectic, colourful
and rich rendition of the hymn infused
with the local flavor of the region,” the
MEA said in a statement, adding that the
“star” of the fusion medley is Baron Di-
vavesi Waqa, the president of the is-
land-nation of Nauru, in the Pacific
“President Waqa’s gesture was not
just a special tribute to Mahatma
Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary
but was also a personal gift from him to
Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” the
At the Suntec event on Tuesday,
which was attended by 150 people,
Mr Ashraf released a set of Indian
postage stamps that depicted the life
and achievements of Gandhi.
Later, at the giant outdoor screen at
the convention centre, a four-minute
film with key moments from Gandhi’s
life was shown.
The visual narrative, using line-art
style of hand-drawn illustrations lay-
ered with water colour and ink wash,
symbolises the simplicity that marked
Gandhi’s life and teachings.
Mr Ashraf pointed out that “the im-
mersion of Gandhiji’s ashes off Clifford
Pier is a sacred thread that binds India
and Singapore – because a place of im-
mersion of ashes in Indian ethos is a
holy place, a sacred place.
“Now, these two videos, which origi-
nated in Singapore, have made the his-
torical connection stronger,” he said.
Singapore has a fascination with
Gandhi. The Indian independence
leader never visited the Malay penin-
sula or Singapore. But when he was as-
sassinated on Jan 30, 1948, there was a
huge outpouring of grief in Singapore.
People were touched by him.
When he died, Singapore was en-
veloped by a huge sense of grief with
some people fasting for 13 days as if one
of their own had died, according to news-
paper reports of that time.
Said Mr Ashraf: “Gandhiji does not
belong just to India, but also to the entire
humanity. He may have been someone
who was born in India and earned his
spurs in England and South Africa, but
his message and his vision are diverse
“He not only led an ancient civilisa-
tion to freedom from colonisation, he
also perfected the tool of non-violence
and peaceful resistance. Significantly,
he inspired so many nations across Asia
and Africa who began to believe that
they could also fight for freedom.
“He fought for the fundamental right
of dignity, equality, justice and equity
for humans across every conceivable
“It is important to take Gandhiji’s
message to the youth. His relevance will
come when the youth begin to see him
as their icon, their inspiration.”
Mr Ameerali Jumabhoy, who as a
young man witnessed Gandhi’s Quit In-
dia speech on Aug 8, 1942 at Gowalia
Tank Maidan in central Mumbai, was
present at the Suntec Convention Cen-
tre on Tuesday.
The 93-year-old said: “Gandhiji was
unique, no other leader in the world has
achieved what he has – free a country
from the largest colonial structure in the
“Never in the history of the world has
a non-violent movement been success-
ful. I was fortunate to be born in that pe-
riod. It is important to take Gandhiji’s
message to our people and our children
so that they can hopefully make the
world a better place than what we experi-
The Global Organisation for People
of Indian Origin, of which he is the chair-
man, is bringing Ms Ela Gandhi, a peace
activist and Gandhi’s granddaughter, to
Singapore this week.
The 78-year-old will address the In-
dian community at the India Heritage
Centre on Sunday, talk about Gandhi
and what he stood for to the students of
the Global Indian International School
on Monday and connect with Singapore-
ans at the Singapore Management Uni-
versity on Tuesday.
“Playing a classical
Indian song is a
symbol of our
racial and religious
– Ms Chen Shanhui Indra, 27,
who did the rendition of the song
Raghupathy Raghav Raja Ram with
the guzheng, a Chinese