Leaning tower of Lucknow

Leaning tower of Lucknow

Heritage hues

Standing tall Satkhanda, a heritage monument in Lucknow, built in 1837, is a symbol of the love of King Mohammad Ali Shah for his daughter. PHOTO BY Sanjay Pandey

Though it has been subject to vandalism and is in ruins today, it still retains its old splendour and is visited by a large number of tourists.

Mohammad Ali Shah, the third king of Oudh (Awadh), who started its construction almost 170 years back, wanted it to be the tallest structure in the world and look like a medieval painting of the Tower of Babel or the Leaning Tower of Pisa, as he had heard a lot about them from the visitors to his court from abroad.

The Awadh historians say that the nawab, who was very impressed with Greek architecture, also wanted the structure to be the ‘Eighth wonder of the world’.

It was said to be originally visualised as a place from where the king could have a bird’s eye view of the city of Lucknow.

Strangely there are varied records about the number of storeys in the building. While some say that it was originally planned as a seven-storeyed building, there are others who mention about a nine-storeyed structure and some even claim a six-storeyed structure.

Some experts opine that the nawab had actually planned ‘Naumachia’ (nine-storeyed building) and not ‘Satkhanda’. Ram Sakai, a writer of Awadh history, has mentioned about ‘Naumachia’.

Abdul Halim Sharar, another writer, in his book, says that five storeys of the building was completed when the king died, but a majority of writers and historians refer to the monument as ‘Satkhanda’ only.

Some say that the king had the building constructed so that he could sight the moon that signals the celebration of eid.

Mohammad Ali Shah, immediately after his ascendance to the throne of Oudh, focused his attention on the beautification of the city. He gave funds for the construction of the Lucknow-Kanpur road over the canal and appointed a British engineer to oversee its construction.

The king also constructed the ‘chota  imambara’ (an imposing monument built to serve as his own mausoleum). The chandeliers to decorate the interior part of the building was brought from Belgium, reflecting the king’s love for European designs.

Only four storeys could be completed before the construction had to be stopped following Mohammad Ali Shah’s death in 1842. According to the local belief, the king, an infirm, loved his daughter very much and had constructed the building for her. The daughter, however, died at a tender age. The king could not bear the loss of his dear daughter and he also breathed his last a little later. His untimely death brought the construction of the beautiful building to a halt.

A blend of French and Italian architecture, the circular structure has arches that are examples of Islamic architecture. The Greek influence could be seen in alternate succession in the façade and in the four tiers of the structure that is still in existence today.  The 67-metre tower, that could very well have been the pride of Awadh and a major tourist attraction, is in ruins like many other heritage sites in Lucknow today and may well come down in the near future, unless conservationists and authorities turn their immediate attention towards its restoration.

 “The ‘Satkhanda’ is an important symbol of Awadh’s past glory and it must be restored to its original form. Unfortunately, officials are not sensitive towards such heritage monuments resulting in their decay,’’ said Yorgen Provence, well-known Awadh historian, who has written several books on Awadh culture and history.

The monument has been subject to vandalism and a large portion of the building has already been damaged, owing largely to official apathy and ignorance among the common public.

The Hussainabad and Allied Trust (HAT), that looks after many heritage buildings in Lucknow, has however started a project to protect the monument from further damage and restore it to its old glory. The Trust is also contemplating on posting security guards outside the structure to prevent further vandalism. The Trust officials feel that the co-operation of the locals is a must in this regard.

The renovation work, however, has been moving at a snail’s pace and even as it continues, the defacement of the imposing structure also goes on simultaneously.
The Indian Institute of Technology at Roorkee in Uttarakhand has been entrusted with the job of restoring the structure to its original glory. The authorities say that they will complete the work of renovation soon.

 The grand structure may be a symbol of an unfulfilled dream, but it certainly reflects a glorious past and needs to be preserved.