Nattukkottai Chettiars originated from the Sivagangai and Pudukottai districts of Tamil Nadu State in India. They settled down in 96 Villages in these two districts. They are often referred to as Nagarathars meaning city dwellers, as they lived in a city called Poompuhar on the east coast of Tamil Nadu, a part of which went under the sea. The term “Nattukottai Chettiars” means “people with palatial houses in the countryside”. It is not certain when the Nattukkottai Chettiars came to Singapore first. However, Tamil literature, especially Silapathikaram of the second century, speak of the many travels that the traders had made to this part of the world prior to the founding of modern Singapore by Stamford Raffles in 1819.
Adorability to Lord Muruga
It was a practice for the Nattukkottai chettiars to build Murugan temples wherever they settled outside India. This was the case in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Myanmar (Burma), Malaysia (Malaya), Singapore (Singapura), Vietnam and Indonesia. They had the advice of Sivachariars not to build any Sivan Temples as certain rituals had to be observed. As the Brahmin Sivachariars were prohibited from crossing the seas, they advised them to establish Thendaythapani Temples where non-Brahmin priests, the Pandarams could be employed.
The first census in Singapore was held in 1824. The records show the presence of 756 Indians. “The Klings were numerous and respectable as traders. The Bengalees few, and only as menials.” (Buckley quoting Mr. Crawford’s letter of Jan 1824 from The first 150 years of Singapore by Donald & Joanna Moore). Some of these respectable traders could have been members of the Nattukkottai Chettiar community as word had gone to Penang and India that there were business opportunities in Raffles’ trading post Singapore, and that there was a need for merchants and money-lenders to provide the much needed finance for the newly established shop-keepers and businessmen.
Relocation within Singapore
The kittangis at Market Street, where the Nattukkottai Chettiars had concentrated their trading and money lending business, were acquired for urban renewal in the 1970s and almost immediately the Chettiars found themselves displaced. It is indeed sad that the community, which helped Singapore to earn its reputation as a financial center, did not put up a landmark of its own in the area where it had its business for more than one and a half centuries.
Contribution to Singapore Economy
The Nattukkottai Chettiars’ contribution to the growing commerce cannot be under-estimated. Credit companies were unknown in those days. In addition to the banks, it was the Nattukkottai Chettiars and some members of the Sikh community who provided the money that was needed by the small businessmen.