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Vivekanandar Illam (or Vivekananda House, also called Ice House, Castle Kernan) is the place where Swami Vivekananda stayed for nine days when he visited Chennai (then Madras) in 1897.
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.
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 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. When Swami Vivekananda visited Madras in 1897 after his return from the West, Iyengar, being a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, made him stay at the Ice House. Vivekananda stayed at the Ice House between 6 February 1897 to 14 February 1897 when he delivered some of his most famous lectures. When Vivekananda was about to depart, he agreed to his disciples' request to set up a permanent centre at the Ice House. The mission activities continued till 1906 when the property came up for mortgage and was purchased by a zamindar.
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. 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.
Ice House was named Vivekanandar Illam by the Government of Tamil Nadu in 1963, the centenary year of Swami Vivekananda. On 6 February 1997, the Government handed over the Illam to Ramakrishna Math on lease to set up a permanent exhibition on Swami Vivekananda and the cultural heritage of India. The exhibition was opened to public on 20 December 1999. Along with the exhibition, regular youth meetings and yoga classes are also being conducted.
The first phase of the exhibition was opened by Sri M. Karunanidhi, then, the Hon'ble Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, on 20 Dec 1999. This has three sections.
Section 1 : Cultural Heritage of India
Section 2 : Photo gallery
Section 3 : Swami Vivekananda's Room
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/-
For Details Contact :
Vivekanandar Illam - Phone : +91-44-28446188
Sri Ramakrishna Math - Phone : +91-44-24621110
Website : www.sriramakrishnamath.org