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Madras Ice House


from Indiatravelportal.com

The Government of Tamil Nadu named the Ice House as “Vivekanandar Illam”, during 1963, the Centenary year of Swami Vivekananda.


vivekananda ice house

Originally called “Ice House”, this landmark was re-christened Vivekananda Illam in 1963. This was in remembrance of Swami Vivekananda’s brief sojourn here (in 1897 when he delivered seven historic lectures at Chennai). It is a sacred place for every student and devotee of Swami Vivekananda.

Vivekanandar Illam on the Marina Beach, Chennai, built 158 years back, has a long and interesting history. It was meant to store ice and hence 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 Kolkata , Mumbai 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 remodeled 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. and 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.

On the eve of his departure for Calcutta , i.e. on 14th February 1897, Swami Vivekananda was coming down the staircase of Castle Kernan. The devotees of Chennai requested him to have a permanent center 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 mortgage.

The Government took over the building in 1917 and it has been renovated recently, with a statue of Swami Vivekananda installed. Today, it houses a gallery of 150 rare photographs on the life of Swami Vivekananda. It also houses a section on India’s cultural heritage and on the history of the building itself. The Government of Tamil Nadu named the Ice House as “Vivekanandar Illam”, during 1963, the Centenary year of Swami Vivekananda.

Various Sections In Vivekananda Illam

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.

Section 2: Photo Gallery
The photo gallery is set in a large circular verandah with 120 exhibits on the epoch making Swami Vivekananda – from his days as an itinerant monk to his conquest of West through his life and works. On display are rare photos elegantly laminated with bi-lingual (English and Tamil) subtitles and scripts. Students and admirers of the Swami Vivekananda will revel at these as it helps them recall the momentous incidents connected with his life.

Section 3: Swami Vivekananda’s Room
On the 2nd floor is the room where Swami Vivekananda stayed from 6th to 15th 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.

Tourist Information:

Timings: 9.00 am to 12.30 pm and from 3.00 pm to 6.30 pm
Closed on: Wednesdays


Air: Chennai has an airport with both domestic and international terminals. Regular flights connect Chennai with the major cities within the country and also with countries like USA, Singapore, U.K etc.
Rail: Chennai is well connected by rail with the important towns and cities within and beyond the state.
Road: State transport buses and private buses connect Chennai with the major towns and cities within the country. Vivekananda Illam is closer to the downtown areas of Chennai and is 5 -m from Chennai Central Railway station and 6-km from Chennai Egmore Railway Station. Regular city transport buses ply on beach road and visitors can alight at Ice House/ Marina.


Being the capital city of the state, Chennai is well equipped with various kinds of accommodation options, varying from economic class to luxurious ones.