Rani Abbakka Chowta 
Paintings from the Ullal Museum
Source: asianage.com 

Many unsung women in our history have fought fearlessly for our motherland, and in south Kannada's Bantwal, a historian has erected a museum in the memory of one such warrior queen from the 16th century. Prof. Thukaram Poojary is the man behind a museum named “Tulu Baduku Museum” and subject of this museum is “Rani Abbakka Chowta of Ullal”. She was the only woman in history to battle and frequently conquer the Portuguese, yet, very little is written about Abbakka's extraordinary story in the history books of India.

Since the 7th century, multiple trades were flourished between the communities of India's western coast and the Arabian Peninsula. However, several European powers had been trying to discover the route to India. And the Portuguese finally became the first Europeans to find a sea route to India around 1498. Till 16th Century, the Portuguese dominated the trades in the Indian ocean. Trading in the Indian Ocean which had been previously free trade zone for Indian, Arab, Persian and African ships, now required a Portuguese permit named “Cartaz”. In 1526, the Portuguese captured the Mangalore Fort and their next target was Ullal. It was the capital of the Chowta King Thirunala Raya III. The Chowtas were Jain Kings who had originally migrated to Tulu Nadu from Gujarat in the 12th century. Tulu Nadu was the province consisting of present-day South Kannada district of Karnataka, portions of Udupi and Kasargod district of Kerala.

Chowtas were a matrilineal dynasty, and the king's heir was his young niece, Abbakka. The fierce and well-trained Abbakka was crowned as the Queen of Ullal, and she was deeply aware of threats from the Portuguese. There was also a strategic marriage alliance of Rani Abbakka with Lakshmappa Bangaraja, the ruler of Mangalore. Rani Abbakka continued to live in her kingdom even after marriage and the couple's three children stayed with her. However, the marriage broke down when Bangaraja compromised with the Portuguese. Ullal's trades were flourishing under the rule of Rani Abbakka, but the Portuguese had been trying to extort tributes and taxes from her.

Abbakka refused to accept the unfair deals of the Portuguese and continued to deal with Arabs despite all the attacks by the Portuguese. From the archers of Mogaveeras and Billava to oarsmen of Mappilah, people of all castes and religions were part of Abbakka's army and navy. Portuguese got irritated by the audacity of Abbakka and began attacking Ullal repeatedly. The first battle took place in the year 1556, and it ended in an uneasy peace agreement. Around 1558, the Portuguese again attacked and were able to steal the settlement at Ullal to some extent. However, Rani Abbakka's battle tactics and strategies pushed them back once again. During one more battle, the Portuguese attacked Ullal under General Joao Peixoto and managed to capture the royal palace of Ullal. But Rani Abbakka escaped before they could capture her, and then she raided the Portuguese with her loyal soldiers in the night and killed Joao Peixoto along with 70 of his soldiers. By this time, the Portuguese had become worried about Rani Abbakka's growing reputation among other rulers. The Portuguese tried many ways of wars, frauds, and stealing, yet, Rani Abbakka stood strong and defeated all the tactics of the Portuguese.

The furious Portuguese now decided to send the Viceroy of Goa, Anthony D' Noronha to attack Ullal. Around 3000 soldiers supported by an armada of battleships attacked Ullal in a surprise pre-dawn attack. At that time, Rani Abbakka was returning from a temple and was caught off-guard but she quickly mounted her horse and rode into the battlefield. Her spiking battle scream, “Save the motherland, Fight them on land and the sea. Fight them on the streets and the beaches. Push them back to the waters”, echoed through the rough winds of the battlefield when her soldiers fired flaming arrows at the Portuguese ships. Numerous Portuguese ships burnt that night, but Rani Abbakka was wounded in the crossfire and was captured by the enemy with the help of some bribed chieftains of Ullal. Extremely rebellious till her end, the fearless queen breathed her last in captivity in 1570. Her legacy lived through her equally brave daughters who continued to defend Tulu Nadu from the Portuguese.

This brave woman fiercely and smartly fought against the Portuguese. Yet her spectacular story remains largely forgotten by many history books. However, promising information is that the brave Rani Abbakka continues to live in the folk culture of the south Kannada region through Bhuta, Kola and Yakshagana folk cultures. The south or Dakshin Kannada has also been holding an annual festival in her memory named “Veera Rani Abbakka Utsava”. In 2003, Indian Post issued a special stamp dedicated to Rani Abbakka. In 2015, the Indian Navy acknowledge her naval bravery by naming a patrol vessel after her, and the Tulu Buduku Museum by Thukaram Poojary is there as well. Rani Abbakka was the only woman in the history of India to fight and repeatedly beat the Portuguese, her bravery is at par with the legendary Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi and Rani Rudrama Devi of Warangal. And we cannot afford this legendary woman who fought for our motherland to be forgotten just like that.



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