Govindasamy Pillai and his wife at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple in the 1970s. (Image from National Archives of Singapore)
P. Govindasamy Pillai
P. Govindasamy Pillai (b. 1887, Tamil Nadu, India – d. 1980, Singapore) is a successful businessman who made his mark with his string of PGP stores in Little India. He is well known for his acts of philanthropy to Singapore and the Indian community, with generous donations to institutions like the Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple, Ramakrishna Mission, Indian Association and the Gandhi Memorial Hall. Govindasamy Pillai was also a founding member of the Indian Chamber of Commerce and a Justice of Peace.
The gopuram or five-tiered entrance tower of the Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple was constructed in 1977 and funded by Govindasamy Pillai. The temple was gazetted as a national monument in 1978. (Image from National Museum of Singapore)
Govindasamy Pillai grew up in a village in the Tanjore District of Tamil Nadu, India. He left home in his teens and arrived at Tanjong Pagar in Singapore by ship. He first started working at a provision shop at 50 Serangoon Road, receiving only food and accommodation as remuneration. He went to India in 1929 and returned with his wife. Using a loan from the chettiars (Indian moneylenders), he bought over the provision shop from the owner and began to sell grains, oils and spices. The store was initially named Dhanalakshmi Stores after his eldest daughter but was renamed to P. Govindasamy Pillai or PGP Stores as it was better known.
Career & Accomplishments
Govindasamy Pillai invested in properties around Serangoon Road and started other businesses including flour and spice mills and textile shops. His saree shops also became popular with the community. The current Little India Arcade is where the PGP saree shop and supermarket once stood.Saree sale advertised at the P. Govindasamy Pillai shop at Serangoon Road in 1987. (Image from National Archives of Singapore)
When the war broke out, Pillai rallied support from the South Indian community in Singapore to help with the war efforts. He was made a Justice of Peace in 1939 in recognition of his war efforts. Pillai also strongly advocated for Indians who came to work in Singapore to settle down and make Singapore their homeland.
Pillai suffered a setback during the Japanese Occupation when his goods and properties were confiscated. After the war in 1945, he started from scratch and soon expanded his businesses to Malaysia and opened PGP stores in Johor and Malacca. Pillai retired in 1963 and handed his businesses worth three million dollars to his children. The PGP store empire was unfortunately closed down in 1998.
Pillai was best remembered for his acts of charity. He donated a large sum to Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple for the construction of their gopuram or entranceway to the temple. In 1952, the new home for the Ramakrishna Mission at Barley Road was also built using his generous donation. The Mission, which was part of the Ramakrishna movement, aimed to help alleviate the sufferings of people, and Pillai often volunteered his time at the Mission. Pillai also donated generously to institutions like the Gandhi Memorial Hall, Indian Association, and the University of Malaya. Pillai passed away from a heart attack in 1980.
The Ramakrishna Mission Temple in Bartley Road in the 1950s. Govindasamy Pillai donated generously to the Ramakrishna Mission. (Image from National Archives of Singapore)