Speech by DPM and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at Sree Narayana Mission (Singapore) Chathayam Celebrations on 15 September 2019.
Mr Jayadev Unnithan, President Sree Narayana Mission (Singapore);
Members of Sree Narayana Mission Executive Committee and Trustees;
HE Mr Jawed Ashraf, High Commissioner of India;
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is my pleasure to be with you today, to celebrate Sree Narayana Guru’s 165th Birthday, and to be a part of your Chathayam celebrations. Thank you for welcoming me so warmly, and thank you for the lovely dance performance by the residents, staff and volunteers.
The story of the Sree Narayana Mission is an important reflection of how our forefathers came together to build Singapore – how the different communities forged a common identity, and adopted the same spirit of giving back and reaching out to one another.
The Mission has a long and rich history. It was founded by a group of Malayalees in 1948, at a time when Singapore was picking up the pieces after the Second World War. By the 1960s, the Mission had put in place a host of welfare initiatives, such as meals-on-wheels programmes, tuition classes and bursaries for less-privileged students.
Over the years, the Mission has grown and continued to care for those in need. As the needs of Singapore society evolved, so too did the Mission. It has kept pace and shaped its programmes to suit the needs of our society.
Today, the Sree Narayana Mission’s facilities include: This nursing home, which provides long-term residential care; Two senior care centres, one here and another in Woodlands; and a Welfare Home, Meranti Home @ Pelangi Village, that provides reception, care and rehabilitation to destitute persons.
Earlier today, I had the chance to tour the facilities here. I am impressed by what I saw. This nursing home houses a 24/7 Dementia-Friendly Go-To Point, which serves as a resource centre for the general public, persons with dementia, and caregivers. Today we also opened a new rehabilitation room with state-of-the-art equipment. I had the opportunity to speak to several of the residents who were using the facilities there, and one common story that they told me, was that although they have been on these machines for just a few months, and for some – a few weeks, they have seen an improvement in their strengths. They were able to walk better and they felt happier. With Singaporeans living longer and an ageing population, such initiatives are a crucial source of support for the community.
Creating a Caring and Cohesive Society
The Sree Narayana Mission embodies values that are important in making our society more caring and cohesive. Values that mirror what Singapore holds dear, such as a spirit of community that embraces multiracialism, and a spirit of partnership which takes a many helping hands approach to serving those in need.
First, is the spirit of community. Multiculturalism is enshrined in your mission, “to serve with care and compassion, regardless of race, religion and language”. From its very beginning, Sree Narayana Mission has served Singaporeans of all races and religions. Its facilities remain open to all. Its bursaries have benefited not just Indian students, but also those from the Chinese and Malay communities.
I am heartened that the Sree Narayana Mission continues to uphold multiracialism, and continues to reach out to communities of all races and religions. One very important cheerful fact is that you serve people of all races and religions. I also see many volunteers and donors from all races and religions here today.
The second key value that the Sree Narayana Mission embodies is the spirit of partnership. The Mission does not work alone. It believes in collaborating with others, government agencies, companies and other community groups, to achieve better outcomes for your beneficiaries. The Mission has been a steadfast partner of the National Council of Social Service since the 1960s, and has been appointed a Social Service Agency by the Ministry of Social and Family Development to run Meranti Home @ Pelangi Village. The Mission has also undertaken several collaborative projects with other groups, including: “Heartwarmers 100=50”, a collaboration with grocery retailer Sheng Siong and volunteer group Heartwarmers to provide subsidised groceries to the less privileged; and “Share-A-Pot”, a collaboration with Khoo Teck Puat Hospital aiming to improve nutrition and fitness among senior citizens.
Earlier on, Mr Jayadev also outlined some of these, together with many other collaborations with many volunteer groups. Sree Narayana has set a very good example. I hope that more Singaporeans can also adopt this spirit of partnership, and work more closely with one another, be it through the community or with the government, to pursue common goals. Because by working together, we can pool our knowledge, resources and skills together to create more robust and comprehensive solutions. And by working together, we build a project, a community, a home, a nation, and a future that we can call our own.
Building Our Future Singapore Together
The Sree Narayana celebrations coincide with our commemoration of the Singapore Bicentennial. It is timely that we take this opportunity to look back at what our forefathers have achieved, and also look ahead at what else we need to do to build our future Singapore.
Looking back, we see that many who had come before us had contributed selflessly to the community. It was through their acts of generosity, many of which transcended racial and religious lines, that a Singapore identity emerged. The Sree Narayana Mission is part of this story. This is a community that believes in the virtues of giving back and making a difference. The Sree Narayana Mission also holds a significant place in our modern history – it is at your Chathayam celebrations in 1965 that our founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew told Singaporeans to “never fear”, and we would transform Singapore from mudflats to a metropolis. More than half a century later, Sree Narayana Mission not only stood the test of time, but also stood witness to the dramatic development of Singapore. We were surrounded by mudflats then. Today, we stand alongside skyscrapers and modern public housing.
The Government did not achieve this alone. It was only possible through the grit and resilience of Singaporeans, and the steadfast commitment of partners like Sree Narayana Mission, who came together to build our home. We are not done building Singapore. We will never be.
The Government is committed to working not only for you, but also with you, to build our shared future. Therefore, I hope that more Singaporeans will embody the spirit of community and partnership of Sree Narayana Mission. Come forward with your ideas and views; Have an open heart and an open mind; Work together to put our ideas into action.
Together, we can build a better community and a better Singapore for ourselves and for future generations. Thank you.
Singaporeans Must Embody Spirit of Partnership – DPM Heng Swee Keat at Sree Narayana Mission (Singapore)’s Chathayam Celebrations.
Sree Narayana Mission (Singapore) celebrated Chathayam on 15 September 2019 to commemorate Sree Narayana Guru’s 165th birth anniversary. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Mr Heng Swee Keat was the Guest-of-Honour, where he urged Singaporeans to embody the pioneer generation spirit of partnership and community to build a shared future for Singaporeans, in his address.
The celebrations coincide with Singapore’s bicentennial commemoration, where the nation looks back at the contributions and achievements of our forefathers and also look ahead to building future Singapore
DPM said ‘The Mission is an important reflection of how our forefathers came together to build Singapore – how the different communities forged a common identity, and adopted the same spirit of giving back and reaching out to one another.’
Sree Narayana Mission (Singapore) also holds a significant place in Singapore’s history, when founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew spoke of transforming Singapore from mudflats to a metropolis city and told Singaporeans to “never fear”, at the Chathayam celebrations, which were held on 12 September 1965.
The celebrations also witnessed the opening of ‘Sree Narayana Mission (Singapore) Rehabilitation Room’, which features seven new equipment specially designed for eldercare by the Helsinki University Research (HUR) from Finland.
Residents also shared their experiences on how the new equipment benefited them.
The celebrations also included an interactive welcome dance, which was specially put together by SNM residents, volunteers and staff, who performed to Singapore’s iconic song ‘Home’.
The event was attended by over 1,000 guests and members of the public.
Around the time Sree Narayana Guru launched his socio-economic-religious reform movement in India’s southern state of Kerala, there was a parallel resistance movement in the neighbouring region of Tamil Nadu where radical leader E.V. Ramaswamy Naickar organised people against caste and its oppressive framework.
Unlike the Naickar “line”, Guru’s transformative work was a continuum in the tradition of religious reformers who started spreading the message of unity and the fraternity of mankind, overriding the deeply-entrenched caste consciousness which has been the defining feature of Indian society over the ages.
The most critical difference in the Guru’s approach, was its balance of the religious, ethical, social and economic content, founded on a principle of universal brotherhood and compassion for everyone. At the time he formulated his solution and even now, it remains distinctively original, intrinsically constructive and innately humane. The Guru’s compass of thinking was far ahead of his time.
If the social fabric of Kerala stands out as an example of a durable compact of people belonging to different castes, communities and religions holding together as a unique laboratory of cohesive diversity, the credit in a large measure should go to the “Light of Sivagiri”. Guru’s teachings have a contemporary significance in the multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-linguistic world that we live in now. Guru realised that for a change of heart to be permanent it has to be based on a vision of love and brotherhood. It cannot be sustained on negativity and hatred.
Guru’s relevance is for all times and all climes. This is because his approach was constructive, spiritual and inclusive. That’s why, Guru’s philosophy continues to inspire people even today. In his authentic biography of the Guru, noted scholar Prof M.K. Sanoo writes: “This is how ideas work. They transmit from heart to heart. Speeches and exhortations are but catalysts”. Guru believed that people have to undergo a change of heart on their own, based on inner convictions and the realisation that all humans are equal intrinsically.
This, I believe, is a continuation of the reformatory work attempted by others over the years in India. Guru stood out because he chose the line of least resistance and genuinely felt that inner change should be the basis for this progression.
Of late, there have been attempts to portray the Guru as someone who was not in this unbroken tradition of our saints. To my mind, this is patently wrong and perceptibly mischievous. The Guru was one of the most important links in the long line of our sages and seers who responded in their own way to the issues of their times.
Sometimes, in India’s history, this required the coldness of logic and the sharpness of intellect which Adi Sankara brought in. At other times it called for the highlighting of the humaneness of spirit, catholicity of outlook, the universality of mankind and the common bases of love for all, which saints like the Guru expounded.
But, there is a unitary thread which flows through all the great saints of India whether it was Nanak, the Buddha, Vardhamana Mahaveera, Adi Sankara, Ramanujacharya or Sree Narayana Guru. The wellsprings of their thinking and philosophy lies within the folds of what we have come to perceive as Hindu/Bharathiya culture, not outside of it. Any attempt to demarcate the Guru’s legacy as outside of this holistic Bharathiya culture and tradition does not correspond to the basic religious-spiritual transformation that he aimed at.
I have no better authority than the Nobel-prize winning great French writer and thinker Romain Rolland who said of the Guru: “His teachings, permeated with the philosophy of Sankara, shows evidence of a striking difference of temperament compared with the mysticism of Bengal… He was, one might say, a Jnanin of action, a grand religious intellectual, who had a keen living sense of the people and of social necessities. He has contributed greatly to the elevation of the oppressed classes in south India, and his work has been associated at certain times with that of Gandhi.”
The Guru, it can be said, refined the non-dualistic principle of Adi Sankara into a contemporary mode, through emphasis on development of the self with education, egalitarianism and coexistence of humanity. Essentially, the Guru’s way out of social degeneration and the oppressive structure of castes was from “within” the basic structure of what we understand as Hinduism.
The Guru sought to bring about a revolution through transformation of thought, not through violent, negative or hateful means. As the world looks for answers of human integration which only can sustain peace, prosperity and indeed our collective coexistence, the Guru’s philosophy offers hope. There is an urgent and indubitable need to spread his thinking to wider audiences.