KUALA LUMPUR: Today’s bustling Brickfields is undeniably a far cry from its humble beginnings. Also known as Kuala Lumpur’s Little India, traces of its rich heritage can be seen in almost every nook and cranny till today.
To commemorate 65 years of Malaysia-India diplomatic ties, the Malaysia-India Heritage Group organised a heritage walk in the area, in collaboration with the Indian High Commission.
The FMT team participated in the walk which started at Scott Road and covered more than 15 iconic landmarks. And although the weather was scorching hot, it was a unique experience soaking in the sights and sounds of Brickfields that isn’t as evident when one travels in a vehicle.
For example, looking at the intricate carvings on the Torana Gate up close helps one better appreciate its beauty. The gate was a gift by the government of India to Malaysia.
The walk also covered notable educational institutions, as well as buildings belonging to cultural and social organisations.
These included the Malaysian Association for the Blind, Temple of Fine Arts, Vivekananda Ashrama Kuala Lumpur, Methodist College Kuala Lumpur, and the Methodist Girls’ School with its iconic clock tower.
The walk also included decades-old places of worship such as the Tamil Methodist Church Kuala Lumpur, Madrasathul Gouthiyyah Surau Brickfields, Sri Kandaswamy temple, Buddhist Maha Vihara temple and the Zion Cathedral.
These different houses of worship within walking distance of each other are a rare sight – and a testament to the melting pot of cultures that exists in Brickfields.
According to Rev Balan Moses, 68, one of the tour leaders and pastor of Zion Redeemer Lutheran congregation that worships at Zion Cathedral, the church was constructed in 1924 at a cost of 20,000 Straits Settlements dollars.
He added that he had heard from his parents that some Brickfields residents took refuge at the church during the Japanese Occupation.
The church is also home to a quaint bell tower that was constructed in 1927. The original bell, which was made in Germany, bears Tamil inscriptions.
History and development
“We have chosen Brickfields, largely on account of the historical, cultural, and spiritual connections between Malaysia and the South Asian region, as a whole,” said Prabhakaran Nair, 69, founder and president of Malaysia-India Heritage Group.
He added that the group, which was established in 2017, is planning another walk in Penang this October.
A similar sentiment was echoed by BN Reddy, the High Commissioner of India to Malaysia. “The place that we stand here, based on my understanding, has great history, culture and heritage that connects Malaysia and India in such a close and intimate manner.”
For Moses, Brickfields is particularly close to his heart. “I grew up here and every fibre of my being shouts Brickfields,” he told FMT.
He has even authored two books titled: “Brickfields: a place, a time, a memory” and “Brickfields and beyond: stories from the past”.
“The genesis of Brickfields lies with the Indians. Of course, Yap Ah Loy built concrete Brickfields but the people who lived in Brickfields were mostly Indians, and it remains so until today.
“Many of the city hall workers who lived in Brickfields kept KL clean. They were also drivers and night soil carriers,” he said, adding that Brickfields was also home to many government servants who worked in the railways and other departments.
Nevertheless, he remains pragmatic about the future of Brickfields. “I am sure that many of the older buildings are going to be demolished for superstructures, towers, and business centres. With the transportation hub here, KL Sentral, it’s a matter of time before this area becomes the nerve centre of KL,” he shared.
“I don’t like it, but I accept it. Development cannot be stopped. I wouldn’t want development to be stopped because the people benefit from development and the economy improves. So, we have to co-exist,” he added.
Approximately 100 participants took part in the walk last Saturday. They were namely members from the Malaysia-India Heritage Group, representatives from the Indian High Commission in Malaysia and students from the Global International Indian School Kuala Lumpur.