Rani Abbakka Chowta or Rani Abbakka was the queen of Tulunadu who fought the Portuguese in the latter half of the 16th century.
She belonged to the Chowta dynasty who ruled over the region from the temple town of Moodabidri. The port town of Ullal served as their subsidiary capital.
Abbakka was an extraordinary child, as she grew up showed signs of being a visionary with an interest in martial arts. There was no equal to her in military science and warfare, mainly in archery and sword fighting. Her father encouraged her in this and after she was well versed in all areas.
Crowning of Abbakka
The Chowta’s followed a matrilineal system. Rani Abbakka Chowta was the first was the first Tuluva Queen of Ullal, located just a few kilometers away from the city of Mangalore, on the shores of the Arabian Sea. Her uncle Tirumalaraya crowned her as the queen of Ullal by her in 1525.
Her uncle also arranged for her to marry local king of Bangher. The marriage did no last long with Abbakka breaking the ties by returning the jewels given by him to her. The husband thus nurtured revenge against Abbakka and later on joined the Portuguese in a treaty, to fight Abbakka.
Rani Abbakka Chowta’s administration was well represented by Jains, Hindus as well as Muslims. Historical research also reveals that during her rule in the 16th century, Beary men had served as seamen in the naval force. Rani Abbakka had personally supervised the construction of dam at Malali; she had appointed Bearys for boulder work. Her army too consisted of people of all sects and castes. She even forged alliances with the Zamorin of Calicut. Together, they kept the Portuguese at bay. The marital ties with the neighbouring Banga dynasty added further strength to the alliance of the local rulers. She also gained support from powerful king Venkatappanayaka of Bidnur and ignored the threat of Portuguese forces.
She became known as ‘Abhaya Rani’ due to her bravery. She was one of the few Indians who fought against the colonial powers. Rani Abbakka may have been the queen of a small kingdom called Ullala, but she was a woman of indomitable courage and patriotism.
Battles with Portugese
After the Portuguese discovered a new trade route to India with Vasco Da Gama’s help and with European colonialism at its peak, they ended up having a monopoly of the Indian Ocean within twenty years of Vasco Da Gama’s discovery. This was after setting up a number of forts in regions that outlined the Indian ocean, namely India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and even Macau in China. This went undisputed by other European traders, who only arrived on the scene during the 17th century and further strengthened their hold on all the spice routes to India. Ullal being a strategically placed port was the Portuguese’s next target to conquer after conquering other ports on that coastal region. Ullal was a prosperous port and a profitable center for the trade of spices and ingredients to the Arab and Western countries. The Portuguese, Dutch and British clashed with each other to control this territory and trade routes. But they could not penetrate deep into the area as the resistance of the local chiefs was strong.
1st Attack – In 1525, the Portuguese destroyed the port of Mangalore in their first raid on the South Canara coast. This incident alarmed the queen and she started making preparations to secure her kingdom. In the second attack the Portuguese were weakened by Abbaka’s strategy, but they wanted the queen to bow before them, but Abbaka refused to do so.
2nd Attack – In 1555, the Portuguese sent Admiral Dom Lvaro da Silva to fight against the queen. In that battle, the queen once again defended herself and successfully drove off the invaders.
3rd Attack – In 1557, the Portuguese plundered Mangalore and laid it waste. This was followed by an attack in 1558 where the Portuguese army perpetrated another wanton cruelty on Mangalore, putting to death a number of men and women, both young and old, plundering a temple, burning ships and finally setting the city itself on fire.
4th Attack – Again, in 1567, the Portuguese army attacked Ullal, showering death and destruction. The great Rani Abbakka Chowta resisted it.
5th Attack – In 1568, João Peixoto, a Portuguese general and a fleet of soldiers where sent by the Portuguese Viceroy António Noronha. They managed to capture the city of Ullal and also entered the royal court. Abbakka Rani, however, escaped and took refuge in a mosque. The same night, she gathered around 200 of her soldiers and mounted an attack on the Portuguese. In the battle that ensued, General Peixoto was killed,seventy Portuguese soldiers were taken prisoners and many of the Portuguese retreated. In further attacks, Abbakka Rani and her supporters killed Admiral Mascarenhas and the Portuguese were also forced to vacate the Mangalore fort.
6th Attack – In 1569 however, the Portuguese not only regained the Mangalore fort but also captured Kundapur (Basrur). Despite these gains, Abbakka Rani continued to remain a source of threat. With the help of the queen’s estranged husband, they mounted attacks on Ullal. Furious battles followed but Abbakka Rani held her own.
In 1570, she formed an alliance with the Bijapur Sultan of Ahmed Nagar and the Zamorine of Calicut, who where also opposing the Portuguese. Kutty Pokar Markar, the Zamorine’s general fought on behalf of Abbakka and destroyed the Portuguese fort at Mangalore but while returning he was killed by the Portuguese. Following these losses and her husband’s treachery, Abbakka lost the war, was arrested and jailed. However, even in prison she revolted and died fighting.
Abbakka among the Masses
She was a very popular queen who is still a part of folklore. The story of Rani Abbakka Chowta is retold from generation to generation through folk music and Yakshagana (a popular folk form in costal Karnataka). While Bhuta Kola is a local dance form in which the great exploits of Abbakka Mahadevi are depicted. Abbakka is depicted as a dark complexioned, very beautiful woman. She always dressed like a normal person. She was very concerned about her subjects and stayed busy late into the night to do justice.
Abbakka will always remain his annals of Indian history as a brave woman who was one of the initial Indians to revolt against the colonial rule.
This picture postcard on JainRani Abbakka Chowta has been released by the Mangalore Postal Division, Department of Post, Government of India, on the occasion of “Kannada Rajyotsava – 2022” under the “Jina Ratna Bhushanaru” series. The picture postcard has been sponsored by Hombuja Jain Math. The entire project has been led by Mahavir Kundur, Hubli.