Historical Vivekananda House, Chennai

Vivekananda House.vivekanandahouse.org/
Vivekanandar Illam (in Tamil 'Illam' means house) or
Vivekananda House on the Kamarajar Salai is an important land mark on the Marina beach area of Chennai. In the days before 1963, it was referred to as the Ice House. This three story building has an impressive architecture and is steeped in history.  This place has  a small exhibition on Vivekananda’s life and Hindu Tradition.

Vivekananda statue, Marina Beach, Chennai. in.geoview.info/

It was  an Ice merchant one Frederic Tudor of Boston, USA who had built an ice house at Madras facing the Bay of Bengal in 1842 as part of his lucrative ice business. It was in 1833, for the first time, Tudor brought ice into the Indian subcontinent from overseas in a ship called Clipper Tuscany. He also had ice houses to store ice in Calcutta and Bombay. This building  was called Ice House long ago itself and during the colonial days, this historical building was used to store ice brought all  the way from the Great Lakes in North America. The building was used for 30 long years for this purpose. For unknown reasons, the ice business folded up in 1880 and the building  changed hands to  one Biligiri Iyengar of Madras who happened to be a wealthy man and a well-known advocate in the Madras High Court. After remodeling it by adding the circular veranda, he converted the building into his residence and named it Castle Kernan after  his close friend, Justice Kernan of the Madras High Court. The house did not serve well for residential purposes because of inadequate ventilation.

Swami Vivekananda, upon his successful return from the Western tour, stayed in this building in the third week of March 1897  as Mr. Iyengar happened to be his disciple. He was taken in a grand procession, befitting his stature  from the station to the Ice House. During his sojourn in Madras, Vivekananda mesmerized the Madras audience through his thought-provoking and spell-binding animated speeches. Upon Swamiji's request, Iyengar made up his mind to set up a permanent center at the Ice House. A small shrine dedicated to Sri Ramakrishna was established in the basement with help from Mr. Iyengar. Thus, very first branch of Ramakrishna Mutt had a humble beginning right here. Notable visitors to the Mutt were sister Nivedita (Irish disciple of Vivekananda) in 1902 and British disciples Charlottee Elizabeth Sevier and Captain John Henry  Sevier during Swamiji's stay here (1897).The mission activities continued unabated till 1906.

Vivekananda House. www.flickr.com

Vivekananda, et al , Vivekananda house. en.wikipedia.org
Above imageSwami Vivekananda (on the chair, third from left) and Biligiri Iyengar (on the floor, second from left) at the Ice House in 1897

Later Ramakrishna Math (Monastery) moved over to the current location in Mylapore, Chennai. Subsequently, this building was bought by a  zamindar from Waltair (Visakapatnam), Andhra. After it became the property of the Government of Madras in 1914, the building was used to function as the hostel and training school for the child widow's home headed by Sister R. S. Subbalakshmi, a social reformer and educationist. Later  between 1941 and 1993 it became a school teachers' hostel and teacher trainee hostel.

Vivekananda House, Chennai. Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai

It was in 1963 during the Congress regime,  as part of the Birth Centenary of Swami Vivekananda, the Government of Tamil Nadu renamed Castle Kernan as Vivekanandar Illam  or 'Vivekananda House'. In 1997, to honor Swamiji's successful Western tour and his historic stay in this building, the Government of Tamil Nadu, at the request of the Ramakrishna Math, handed over the Vivekananda House on lease up to 2020.