Vivekanandar Illam
     Vivekanandar Illam is a place of pilgrimage for every student and devotee of Swami Vivekananda's life and teachings. For full nine days Swamiji stayed here, he met visitors, he sang, he prayed, and he meditated. The place is still charged with his invisible, divine presence.


áááá Vivekanandar Illam on the Marina, Chennai, built 160 years back, has a long and interesting history. It was meant to store ice, whence it got its popular name, the Ice House. Eventually this house became a silent spectator of a series of diverse historical events, some of which have lifted this building to a status of an outstanding historical and cultural monument.
    Mr.Frederic Tudor, the 'Ice King', built three houses in Calcutta, Bombay and Chennai to keep ice under proper insulation so that it could be stored for months together. Amongst the three buildings the one at Chennai alone stands today. It was built in the year 1842. Tudor maintained his business in Chennai from 1842 upto around 1880. After the invention of making ice by 'steam process' in India, his business collapsed.

    Castle Kernan

áááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááá    Then the Ice House was sold to Mr.Biligiri Iyengar, a prosperous advocate of the Madras High Court. He remodelled the house adding circular verandahs and provided it with many windows to make it fit as residential quarters. Also he named the house 'Castle Kernan,' as a tribute to his friend, the famous Justice Kernan of the Madras High Court. Apart from being his residential quarters, this house served as a shelter for poor and educationally backward students. The structure failed as a residence, probably because of inadequate ventilation.

    Swami Vivekananda's Visit


Castle Kernan acquired historical and cultural value after Swami Vivekananda's stay there. Swami Vivekananda came to Tamil Nadu twice: first as an unknown wandering monk (December 1892 to April 1893) and then as the famous Swami Vivekananda, after his appearance at the Chicago Parliament of Religions and successful preaching work in the West.In a very real sense, it was Chennai that first 'recognized' Swamiji's power and potential, and it was the young men of this city that took a leading part in sending Swamiji to the West.After his triumphant march through the West for four years he returned to India via Colombo (Sri Lanka), Pamban, Rameswaram, etc to Chennai in February 1897.
    He was given a tumultuous welcome at Egmore Railway Station, a kind of welcome never extended to any other person in the recent history of India. Being a disciple of the great Swami, Biligiri Iyengar offered Castle Kernan for the stay of his Master. Swami Vivekananda was taken there in a grand procession along with some of his western devotees (J.J.Goodwin, Capt. & Mrs. Sevier etc.), some eastern disciples (Swami Sadananda etc.) and two of his brother monks (Swami Shivananda, Swami Niranjanananda).

    He stayed there from February 6 to 14, 1897, and delivered seven electrifying lectures revealing his plan of campaign to restore India to her pristine glory. Indian Mirror published a report on 6.2.1897

    "Castle Kernan, where Swami Vivekananda is lodged, presented a picturesque scene on Saturday evening. The castle itself is beautifully decorated and fitted up for the reception of the Swami and party. Two magnificent pandals have been put up, one at the entrance, which is intended to serve a purely ornamental purpose, and another in the compound, which serves the purpose of a meeting hall, where the Swami patiently undergoes the severe cross-examination to which he is subjected on the technicalities and subtleties of Vedanta. A large number of gentlemen waited upon the Swami at the pandal that evening, when an acrostic poem in Sanskrit in honour of the Swami was read by Mr.R.Sivasankara Pandiaji. The Swami then offered to answer any questions that might be put to him".

    "On the eve of his departure for Calcutta, ie on 14 Feb 1897, Swami Vivekananda was coming down the staircase of Castle Kernan. The devotees of Chennai requested him to have a permanent centre here. Swamji readily agreed and deputed his brother disciple Swami Ramakrishnananda to initiate the Ramakrishna Order's activities in South India.Swami Ramakrishnananda, a great thinker, erudite scholar, forceful speaker and, above all, a God-realized saint, arrived in Chennai in the 3rd week of March 1897 with Swami Sadananda and after a short stay of a few days at Flora Cottage, a building on the Ice House Road (now Dr. Besant Road), shifted to Ice House and established a shrine for Sri Ramakrishna there with the help extended by Sri Biligiri Iyengar, the owner of the house. Thus, the first branch of the Ramakrishna Math, which is now flourishing as an international spiritual organization, was started in Chennai.

    "Even after the passing away of Sri Biligiri Iyengar in 1902, Swami Ramakrishnananda continued his work here till 1906. In 1906 this property was brought to sale by auction by the mortgagee.

    "Later, the Government of Madras acquired the Ice House in 1917 as part of their social welfare scheme for Government Secondary Training School for Women. Initially the Government set up the Widows' Hostel in this building from 1917-1922. It appears that this building bore the name of Marine Mansion for a short period then, which name except for a marble plate available now, has gone into oblivion of memory. From 1922-1941 it acted as Elementary & Secondary Grade Teacher's Trainees' Hostel and T.P.T. Hostel. From 1941 to 1993 it acted as B.Ed. Trainees' Hostel.

    Vivekanandar Illam

áááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááááá    The Ice House was named Vivekanandar Illam by the Govt. of Tamil Nadu during 1963, the Centenary year of Swami Vivekananda. At this time Sri Ramakrishna Math made efforts to acquire the building to preserve it as a great national, cultural and historical monument. It needed much patience and perseverance and even then it was a long wait. Finally, on 6 February 1997 the Government of Tamil Nadu made a public announcement at the meeting near Vivekanandar Illam in connection with the 'home coming centenary of Swami Vivekananda,' that the government would soon hand over the historical monument to the Math. The formal announcement followed a few days later and the Government of Tamil Nadu has given Vivekanandar Illam to Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, on lease to set up a permanent exhibition on Swami Vivekananda and the Indian Cultural Heritage.

    From then onwards the work started. But no project could be taken up until the structure was thoroughly strengthened through repairs. So conservation experts were consulted and a committee appointed to oversee the renovation of the Illam and implementation of the various projects. 1.5 Crore Rupees was estimated for the work and setting up an exhibition. So far about Rs. 65 lakhs have been spent, and careful repair work was carried out keeping the historicity of the building in view.

    Vivekananda Cultural Heritage of India Exibition :    First Phase


    Section 1 : Cultural Heritage of India

    A colourful and vibrant exhibition of paintings, 43 in all is a delight to the connoisseur and lay for its sheer beauty and artistry. They portray India from Vedic times to the advent of Sri Ramakrishna. These paintings echo the cultural & spiritual history of India and an instant attraction. Mr. P Purushottam Karanth of Lalit Kala Academy, Mysore, Sri Maniam Selvan, a celebrated artist of Tamil Nadu, and other renowned artists bring alive before our mind's eye that ageless civilization and culture which made gigantic strides in the plane of thought, even in the remote past. These would excite any art lover as it vividly depicts the significant growth of Indian thought power - in search of inner peace and tranquility. There is one section devoted to the spirit and culture of the Tamils and the proud place it occupies even in modern times. The subtitles to the exhibits convey with ease subtle and lofty ideas of the Vedas and epics.

    Section 2 : Photo gallery

     The photo gallery is set in a large circular verandah with 120 exhibits on Swami Vivekananda - from his days as an itinerant monk to his conquest of West through his life and work. On display are rare photos elegantly laminated with bi-lingual (English & Tamil) subtitles and scripts. Students and admirers of the Swami Vivekananda will revel at these as these help them recall the momentous incidents connected with his life. These photos donated by the Vedanta Society of St. Louis, USA are remarkable for its clarity and sharpness even as they were taken a century ago. Some relics of Swami Vivekananda are also displayed here.

    Section 3 : Swami Vivekananda's Room:

    On the 2nd floor is the room where Swami Vivekananda stayed from 6 to 15 Feb 1897 after his triumphant return from the West. From here he proclaimed his Mission and inspired thousands of men and women to consecrate their lives for the emancipation of our motherland and mankind in general. The room commands a breath-taking view of the beach/ocean.
Some Further Informations
  • Exhibition Timings : 10.00 to 12.30 pm & 3 to 7.00 pm On Sundays upto 7.30pm

  • Entrance Fee : Adults : Rs. 2/-; Children (between 3 & 12) : Re. 1/-

  • Book-Shop : Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Vedanta literature available in English, Tamil, Telugu and Sanskrit. Pictures, dollars etc are also available.

  • Weekly Holiday Wednesday.
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