RANI ABBAKKA CHOWTA- The ‘Abhaya Rani’ (The fearless queen)

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There is no greater shame today than Indians burying their long history of women being the earliest freedom fighters in this civilization. Her name is Rani Abbakka Chowta– the name that sent shivers through the spines of the Portuguese in the 1500s who were watching Goa like hawks.

Belonging to the great Chowta dynasty, she ruled over Ullal in Tulu Nadu in Karnataka. She is known affectionately to the Tulu people as “Abhaya Rani” (The fearless queen) for repeatedly crushing the Portuguese attacks for a staggering 40 years. Contrary to popular belief, much of southern India has had a long-standing matrilineal tradition. That was also the case for the Chowtas. She was then fated with a marriage alliance with the King of Banga in Mangalore, Raja Lakshmappa Arasa. This marriage, however, was unfortunately cursed from the beginning, causing her to return to Ullal to rule over her kingdom.

Her husband who was enraged later forged an alliance with the Portuguese in the later years to overthrow her. Though India has always been a martyr of brutal invasions and genocides, the ultimate fall of India has always been because of traitors who don’t hesitate one bit to sell off their Motherland. As Kangana Ranaut poetically said in Manikarnika, “Oh Mother India, how do I protect you when your own children are traitors?

After conquering much of Goa, the Portuguese still needed to capture the whole of the Konkan coast to cement their rule over West India. Rani Abbakka’s kingdom remained a hindrance to the Portuguese capturing the Spice trade, as Ullal was a flourishing port and the famous spice trading hub of the 16th Century. The portuguese then turned south in 1557, destroying much of Mangalore before arriving at Ullal.

Rani Abakka’s reign was well known for her strong alliances with the local chieftains and communities. She was well supported by Hindus, Jains and even Muslim. In her naval force, Beary (local community of Muslims in coastal Karnataka) men were well represented. Among her successes are forging alliances with Calicut and Bidnur kingdoms.

Enraged at Abbakka’s support and might, the Portuguese sent Admiral Silver in 1555 to defeat her after her historic refusal to pay them tribute, but she defeated them completely. After plundering Mangalore in 1557, they came back to Ullal in 1568, which is what became the greatest turning point in her life. Despite her strong resistance, the huge Portuguese fleet headed by General Peixoto managed to capture Ullal and take the royal court.

Rani Abbakka then heroically escaped and took a refuge in a mosque nearby. A clear indication of the unity she fostered among her people. That very night itself, she gathered 200 troops and marched into the palace, heroically killing General Peixoto in the chaos. If that wasn’t enough, she took 70 Portuguese soldiers hostage and killed Admiral Mascarenhas, forcing the Portuguese to vacate Mangalore fort as well.

A statue of Rani Abbakka at junction of Chord Road and Rajkumar Road in front of the Mysore Soap factory, Bangalore.

This scale of victory had not been seen by an Asian power against a European power to date. However, this victory was outlived, when the Portuguese managed to capture Kundapur and subsequently Mangalore fort with the help of her treacherous ex-husband. In 1570, she historically forged an alliance with the King of Bjiapur and Calicut. With her masterful techniques in warfare and diplomatic strategy, she put up the strongest resistance the Portuguese had seen. She kept undercutting them and resisting their attacks. After a series of humiliating defeats, the Portuguese finally sent a strong fleet of 3000 men and attacked Ullal, catching her off guard as she was coming back from a temple.

Her piercing battle cry – “Save the motherland. Fight them on land and the sea. Fight them on the streets and the beaches. Push them back to the waters1, was etched in the minds of every Indian from then on. She was however defeated and captured. She then continued to revolt and died in jail, but the loud beats of her heart reverberate in every part of coastal Karnataka today. Her gallant efforts to save her motherland from barbaric invaders remain our duty to be spread.

References:

  • Pal, S. (2019, July 30). The Forgotten Story of Rani Abbaka Chowta, the Fearless Warrior Queen of Tulu Nadu. Retrieved from https://www.thebetterindia.com/115196/rani-abbaka-chowta-ullal-tulu-nadu-karnataka/

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