The Abandoned Tower of Ambition



Tall buildings symbolise power and authority today, from Burj Khalifa in Dubai to the Petronas Tower at Kuala Lumpur. But this idea, of ‘building up’ seems to have fascinated powerful people through history.

A Nawab in 19th century Lucknow also planned a massive tower to underline the might of his office. Nawab Muhammad Ali Shah was the third Nawab of Awadh and he had some pretty big plans, even though ironically, he had a very short stint at the top! He inherited the title at the age of sixty-three and ruled for just five years between 1837 to 1842. The highlight of  his otherwise unremarkable reign was the fine buildings he commissioned in Lucknow.



Hussainabad Imambara, also known as Chhota Imambara
Hussainabad Imambara, also known as Chhota Imambara|Wikimedia Commons

The most famous of the lot was the Hussainabad Imambara, also known as Chhota Imambara, built in the Hussainabad area of Lucknow. However, near the Hussainabad talab or tank, is an incomplete tower which is a testimony to a unique Nawabi project which was never completed.

The Satkhanda tower, a mark of the Nawab’s glory,  was meant to be a thirty meter high tower with an observation deck on the top floor, from which the Nawab could survey his kingdom and enjoys the panoramic views of his capital - the Lucknow city. There was also a plan to use it as an observatory, by installing a large telescope on top of the tower to view the planets and the stars.

Contemporary historic records state that the work of the Hussainabad talab (tank) and the tower were started in 1839 CE. In Urdu, satkhanda means seven storied and it can be assumed that the plan was to build a tower seven stories high.  Interestingly, many chroniclers also refer to it as Naukhanda, causing speculation that there may have been plans to build the structure even higher.

Though it was intended to be a glorious monument, Satkhanda has been left to ruin for centuries
Though it was intended to be a glorious monument, Satkhanda has been left to ruin for centuries|Wikimedia Commons

However, the construction was suddenly abandoned when only four storeys were built. One explanation is that Nawab Muhammad Ali Shah died three years later in 1843 CE and his successors were not interested in completing the project. Another, more popular and colourful local story is that the Nawab abandoned the project after he slipped and fell as he was climbing down the tower during its construction. This was seen as a bad omen by the court astrologers. So much so, that even the Nawabs successors didn't have the heart to complete it!

The Satkhanda remained abandoned, quite literally, till recent times. It lay derelict and served as a refuge for local squatters. Thankfully some restoration work has been started on it now!


LHI TRAVEL GUIDE

The heritage watch tower of Satkhanda is one of the lesser known monuments in Hussainabad, in the old city of Lucknow which is connected to most major towns and cities by road and air. The nearest airport to Hussainabad is Chaudhary Charan Singh International Airport, Lucknow, which is around 19 kms away from the monument. The nearest railway station is Lucknow Junction Railway Station, 7 kms away from Satkhanda.

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