Vivekanandar Illam – earlier known as Castle Kernan and Ice house before that, which is located in the right opposite to Marina on Kamarajar Salai.The Ice house – built in 1842 by Frederic Tudor who founded Tudor Ice Company, Massachusetts, US was actually a tower like structure built to store ice that is imported from US by the Tudor Ice Company.By 1880s, the Ice business of the Tudor Ice Company came to a close due to better way of making ice in India itself and hence the use of Ice House as a storage facility came to an end.
Thereafter, Biligiri Iyengar, a wealthy lawyer and, later a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, became the owner of the Ice House building.He renamed the Ice House as Castle Kernan, after his friend Justice Kernan of Madras High Court.He added circular verandahs to the buildings and wanted to convert the House into a residence but due to various structural difficulties he didn’t succeed in doing so and converted the place into a shelter for poor and educationally backward students.
When Swami Vivekananda returned to India after his historic address at the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893, he came to Madras where he was accorded a royal welcome.Swamiji stayed in the Ice House from 6th February to 15th February 1897.
Many people in those days felt that swamiji was a reincarnation of Thirujanana sambandar, the celebrated nanyanmarof the 6th Century AD. Though swamiji did not pay attention to such comparisons, there are records of many commoners coming to the Ice House tohave darshan of Swami ji.
Later in 1902,Biligiri Iyengar, the owner of the Ice House, passed away . Owing to financial problems the proprietors of the Ice House building decided to auction it in 1906.
Dr. Nanjunda Rao and other devotees of Swamiji tried to purchase it but ran short of money and the Ice house was purchased by Ankhitham Venkata Jaggaiah Rao, A wealthy Zamindar of Waltair for Rupees 19,700.Thus the Ice house served as the first moastrary of the Ramakrishna Movement in South India for 9 years.
Ankhitham Venkata Jaggaiah Rai si the believed to have lived in the Ice House for few months but later due to some domestic problems left the place, keeping the building under lock and key and a guard.
In 1917, the British Government purchased the Ice house building from Sri Rao by paying Rupees 79,794/.The Government renamed the Ice House as Marine Mansion and let out the building to Sister Subbulakshmi to run a hostel for the child widows. She had been running a sarada Ashrama before shifting to Ice House.
From 1922 to 1941 the place acted as Elementary and Secondary Grade Teachers Trainees Hostel and TYPT hostel. From 1941 to 1993 it acted as B.Ed Trainees hostel for Women.
In 1963, on the occasion of the birth centenary of Swami Vivekananda the Government of Tamil nadu renamed the Ice House as Vivekanandar Illam.
In July 1964, Dr.Sarvepalli Radha Krishnan, the second President of India, unveiled a statue of Swami Vivekananda on a plot adjacent to the Vivekanandar Illam ( Vivekananda House). The then Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, Sri Bhaktavatsalam, and many other dignitaries attended the statue unveiling function.
After the B.Ed Trainees hostel for women closed down in 1993 Vivekanandar illam was practically abandoned. It was under lock and key and without any maintanence, with falling wall-plaster, weeds in the cornices and bats and insects ruling the place.
In 1997, on the occasion of the centenary of Swami Vivekananda’s return to India from the west, Sri Ramakrishna Math, Mylapore, Chennai requested the Government of Tamilnadu for getting possession/lease of the Vivekanandar Illam.The Government agreed to give Vivekanandar Illam to the Math on a three year lease. It was later extended by ten years till 2010.
The Math thoroughly renovated the building by spending Rs.65 Lakhs raised through donations from the public. Since then the building is being maintained at an annual recurring cost of Rs.7Lakhs.
The renovated building was opened to public in 1999. The inaugural function was presided over by the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, M.Karunanidhi.
The illam now houses an exhibition open to public in its 3 floors and has the following exhibitions. The Basement has a brief history of the Ice house.
The First floor has a pictorial exhibition on Indian Culture Down the Ages. A large number of Color portraits and a few statues adore the place.
The second floor has an exhibition on the life and teachings of Swami Vivekananda in Photographs.
A room on the 3rd storey is the room in which Swamiji stayed which is now preserved as a meditation room for the public.
The activities of the Illam include a weekly class for public on mediation , special yoga sessions on Sundays, value education classes for the youth and coaching classes for poor students of the area.
The illam is open on all days except on Wednesday from 10AM to 12 Noon and 3-7PM