Abbakka Chowta –“Abhaya Rani and tale of betrayal”
Wednesday,21 July 2021 11:53 PM IST
Our great Prime Minister Modi inaugurated the Amrit Mahotsav or celebration of India’s 75th year of Independence. We will be celebrating this event till 2022. I am going to write a feature on all those great men and women who fought against foreign invasion not just against the British. I had written many articles on unknown kings and people from Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Today I am going to write about the great but unknown, Abbakka Chowta, from Karnataka, the great queen who fought hard to save her kingdom from the Portuguese. She is one of the earliest individuals to rebel against the European invasion. Did you know she was the first Indian queen to fight against European Imperialism, many centuries before Rani Lakshmi Bai? I knew about her when I saw her bronze statue in Bangalore.
To narrate her story, I need to take you to the 15th century. People in those days thought there were only three continents – Asia, Europe and Africa. Before, 1553 there was trade done between Asia and Europe, and Silk Route existed via Constantinople. The Arabs took goods from the East and sold it to the Europeans. Dacca Muslin, Indian Spices and silk were used by the Royal families of Europe. However, the capture of Constantinople by Turks in 1453 destroyed the trade route. The result of this event was imperialism and most of America, Asia, New Zealand and Australia came under the rule of European countries. When the trade route was blocked, the European royal families, who were addicted to Dacca Muslin, spices and silk were forced to find an alternate trade route. Many sailors set on a long journey through the Atlantic to come to India then known as the “golden bird”.
In past India was invaded many times by invaders from time immemorial through the Himalayan passes. Did you know the first invader who invaded India through the ocean was the Portuguese? Vasco Da Gama reached Calicut in 1499. During the early part of the sixteenth century, the Portuguese were successfully carrying out trade in coastal India. However, with time their imperialist motives became clear and slowly by slowly, they began their reign of terror. If you thought Mughals, Khiljis or the British were cruel, the Portuguese will emerge the winners. Goa and Brazil were the main victims. Much of the trade carried on in the Western coast of India was taxed by the Portuguese who looked to advance upon Ullal, near Mangalore Port, (Karnataka). That is how they came to face the brave queen Abbakka Chowta their nemesis.
She was the first Tulluva queen of Ullal and belonged to the Chowta dynasty who ruled over parts of coastal Karnataka with the capital city Puttige. Ullal was their subsidiary capital and was the capital of the Chowta king Thirumala Raya III who was the vassal of the Vijayanagar kingdom. The Chowtas were Jain kings who had originally migrated to Tulu Nadu (a province consisting of present-day Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka, portions of Udupi and Kasargod district in Kerala) from Gujarat in the 12th century.
As the Chowtas followed the matrilineal system, the king’s heir was his niece, Abbakka. She was a brave princess who had been trained in archery, cavalry, military strategy, and all other skills a young princess needed. When she became the queen of Ullal, she was aware of the threat posed by the Portuguese and was determined to resist it with all power she had. Before his death, Thirumala Raya III married Abbakka with Lakshmappa Bangaraja, the ruler of Mangalore. She was so independent that even after her marriage she stayed in Ullal along with her three children. The marriage broke down when Bangaraja negotiated with the enemy of her kingdom the Portuguese. They wanted to keep control over trade in the Indian Ocean by using sailing permits. “In true colonial style, what the Portuguese could not achieve through bullying, they did through strength”, was the view of the historians.
Friction with the Portuguese was inevitable and Ullal was strategically important as a port as it had a thriving spice trade. By this time, the Portuguese were alarmed about Rani Abbakka’s bravery in inspiring other rulers. When threats failed, they resorted to treachery. A series of edicts were passed to make an alliance with the defiant queen illegal. Her ex-husband, Bangaraja of Mangalore, was also warned against sending any aid to Ullal.
Her first battle with the Portuguese was in 1555 when Admiral Dom Álvaro da Silveira and his army arrived with imperialistic designs in Ullal. In 1568, the Portuguese Viceroy Antony D’ Noronha sent Joao Peixoto with a fleet of soldiers. He, however, managed to capture Ullal and enter the palace. Abbakka, managed to escape and took shelter in a mosque. She, along with 500 soldiers, killed Peixoto and seventy troops in the night. Historians said, “the invaders were forced to flee to their ships in disgrace”.
This brave queen’s words “save the motherland. Fight them on land and the sea. Fight them on the streets and the beaches. Push them back to the waters”, reverberated through the airstreams as she and her soldiers fired against the Portuguese ships. Many of the ships in the Portuguese fleet were burnt that night, but unfortunately, Rani Abbakka was wounded in the crossfire and was captured with the help of her own chieftains. The brave queen passed away in captivity, but her legacy will never die. After her death, her brave daughters continued the fight against the Portuguese. As a result, Portuguese rule was confined only in Goa, and were finally forced to leave in 1961.
It can be rightly said Rani Abbakka was the main thorn in the Portuguese’ side throughout her reign despite their superior military power. Thanks to the ultra-left influenced curriculum she remains buried in the sands of time. However, she still lives on in the folk culture of the Dakshin Kannada region and in recent years, her story gained popularity across the country. There is an annual celebration in her memory, called “Veera Rani Abbakka Utsava” held in Karnataka.
There was a special stamp issued in her memory in 2003. The Indian Navy in 2015 named a patrol vessel after her. A movie will be made about her life titled Abbakka, which will be released in 2023 directed by Manso Re. The film will be released in Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Malayalam. As per reports, the first poster released got a great response from the critics and public.
All these efforts to recognize the braves is not enough and we need to celebrate their lives in the one-year long Amrit Mahotsav.