Any one visiting Chennai’s famous Marina beach can’t miss seeing this beautiful circular building in bright pink colour on the opposite side of the road facing the sea. The building is a historic landmark, now called as Vivekanandar Illam (means House in Tamil) in remembrance of Swami Vivekananda staying here for 9 days in 1897. This was immediately on his return from USA where he delivered the historic speech on Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. The building was earlier called as Castle Kernan and popularly as Ice House due to the fact it was here British stored the Ice blocks they brought from cooler regions of North America during mid 19th century.
Early this week Hon’ble Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu inaugurated the 150th Birth Anniversary celebrations of Swami Vivekananda in this building and there were reports in media of Ramakrishna Math having an exhibition and 3D movie on Swami Vivekananda here. So here I am on a Sunday evening with my son visiting the place along with my camera, lens and full battery charge. The entry fee is Rs.10 for Adults, Rs.5 for Children, which is reasonable and needed for maintenance of a historic building like this.
Immediately on entering the campus, dampening my spirit was a sign “No Photographs of Exhibits” next to the calm & reassuring Swami Vivekananda idol. What were the care takers of the museum thinking when they put the sign?. Do they expect visitors to take photographs of people coming into the building – that can be done better on the sands of Marina Beach, why should I pay and come inside. Of course I am coming here to take good photographs of the exhibits. Doing so, then posting it online or spreading by other means are only going to popularize Swami’s message, which I suppose is the mission of the care takers (Sri Ramakrishna Math of Chennai). I reconciled myself that there may be precious original artefacts and photographs which may get affected by careless flash usage of visitors – at the end of the visit I realized there is no such antiques here, it is all modern copies (nicely done though).
In the ground floor of the building were photographs depicting the history of the building, of Swami’s visit here from 6th to 15th February 1897. In first floor were nice pictorial scenes introducing in easy terms the Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas, Epics and history of India – this was quite informative. These were explained in the book I got at the store there titled “Spiritual Heritage of India” by Swami Prabhavananda. In the second floor were more pictures of Swami throughout his life and a mini theatre showing 3D Movie of Swami’s Chicago speech. You can see some of these pictures in Wikipedia. The 15 minute movie was surprisingly well done for a museum and carried a fine rendition of “Frog in the well” story told by Swami Vivekananda.
While writing this blog I found the Museum has a modern, beautiful site at vivekanandahouse.org built by members of Sri Ramakrishna Math and it includes a trailer for the 3D movie.