Queen Abbakka Devi of Mangalore
The renowned Queen Abbakka Devi who ruled over the Ullal region of Dakshina Kannada during the medieval period has over the ages acquired undying fame for her brave defiance of Western invaders. She belonged to the Jain Dynasty of the Chowtas, who ruled over a wide domain with the temple town of Moodabidri as their headquarters. Their subsidiary capital was the port town of Ullal on the Arabian Sea Coast.
Succession in the Chowta dynasty was through the maternal line. The heir-apparent ruled over the Ullal. It was a prosperous port of export of merchandise like pepper, cardamom and other spices grown in the littoral south of the Portuguese colony of Goa. The Poruguese, the Dutch and the British vied with one another for control of the region. Their aim was colonization through naval supremacy. But the local Chieftains were powerful enough to resist their incursions. They also forged alliances to prevent the foreigners from gaining control over the coastal stretch. The fertile coastal belt thus remained the last bastion of Independence on the West coast during the middle ages. Resistance to alien domination cut across the caste and community lines.
The Chowta head of the dynasty Thirumala Raya had ensured Abbakka’s proficiency in martial arts and combat strategies through her training before sending her to Ullal, he also taught her the nuances of diplomacy and State-craft.
As the visitor proceeds to the beach-resort of Ullal to the south of Mangalore, he is attracted to the statue of Abbakka Devi on horseback. The inspiring statue of the Queen with a scimitar in her hand is indeed a reminder of the fearless Queen beckoning her army to fight the hoards of invaders attempting to invade the territory. Her courage in rallying her soldiers to battle against the alien forces had earned her the name of ABHAYA (fearless) Abbakka Devi.The Queen’s uncle, Thirumala Raya had forged matrimonial alliance with the powerful head of the Banga dynasty of Mangalore. Abbakka was married to Lakshmappa Arasa, the Mangalore monarch. Mangalore was strategically situated to the north of Ullal across the harbour. The Bangas ruled over a vast area that included Bangawadi at the foot of the Western Ghats and Nandavara on the Netravathi river. The Banga – Chowta alliance was designed as a ploy to deter any aggressors.
Queen Abbakka Devi also had the foresight to arrive at mutual defence friendship agreement with the Zamorin of Calicut. The Zamorin was a marked enemy of the Portuguese colonial government in Goa. The Portuguese administration was clearly upset by the Queen’s tactics. They wanted her to pay them tribute for her alliance with the Zamorin. But paying them tribute would have implied knuckling down to their blandishments. The Queen therefore did not yield to their preposterous threat. That also would have meant conceding their authority over the Arabian Sea-coast. The Queen decided to withstand the threat posed by the foreign depredators. The Portugese administration of Goa sent a formidable naval force down the Arabian Sea to take over Ullal by storming the port. The Queen took up the challenge and met force by force. The battle against the Portuguese invaders took place in 1456 A.D. There was no clear decision in the battle. It ended with an uneasy truce.
Foiled by Abbakka Devi’s dominance, the Portuguese colonialists sent a much more formidable naval contingent to the Ullal area two years later. The next confrontation with the Queen’s forces followed in 1958. But when the Prouguese fleet led by Louis DE’ mellow attempted to take over Ullal they were confronted by a strong counter attack by the Queen’s army. The Portuguese were surprised by the Zamorin’s men who came to the aid of Queen Abbakka. The Arab Moors and the Muslim battallions of Malabar and southern Karnataka were also there to help the Queen’s forces.
The Portuguese invaders who were rattled then proceeded to go on a spree of sacking and pillaging the Ullal settlement. A number of houses were burnt down in this nefarious venture of indiscriminate plunder. The depredators were, however, stunned with the courageous defiance by the Queen’s soldiers. The Italian chronicler Pietro De’ valle said that the Queen’s astounding feat was on par with that of the British Queen Elizabeth I who defeated the Spanish armada.
The Portuguese freebooters who were thus beaten back then hit upon the ploy of concluding a trade pact with the Queen. Under the pretext of this arrangement they persisted with their bullying tactics. The Queen was asked not to strengthen her trade ties with the Zamorin. They also denounced the Queen’s trade agreement with Persia as a hostile act. The Portuguese imperialists sent a demarche to Queen Abbakka asking her to route all trade transactions with other countries through their intermediaries. Portuguese agents should be permitted to set up trade depots at Ullal, they demanded. But the Queen turned down their plea for any concessions.
Intrigue and treachery were the other weapons deployed by the Portuguese colonialists. They began resorting to upset Queen Abbakka by plotting discord between her and her husband’s court at Mangalore.
They also bribed Kama Raya, the ambitious heir-apparent to the throne of Abbakka Devi’s husband, King Lakshmappa Arasa. The senior counsellors of the Mangalore king’s court were also similarly bought over. The King was served with a stern warning that the Mangalore settlement would be burnt down if he were to help out the Ullal Queen. The King was thus prevented from sending reinforcements to help his wife Abbakka Devi in the next round of hostilities against the Portuguese invaders.
Confrontation between Queen Abbakka and the Portuguese continued unabated with the colonial power determined to make inroads into the Indian mainland. They attempted to seize and annex the Ullal territory by overthrowing the Queen. In the year 1481 A.D. the Goa Viceroy Anthony D’ Noronha led the attack against Ullal by an overwhelmingly superior armada. He came to the Ullal sea-front with a large number of battleships and a contingent of 3000 troops. Launching a pre-dawn surprise attack, the Portuguese mercenaries sneaked into the Ullal settlement. They set upon a rampage of indiscriminate killing, large-scale looting and wanton destruction.The Queen who had gone to the Somanatheshwara temple was alerted about the treacherous invasion. She rushed to the battle-front rallying her forces to fight the enemy in a never-say-die defiance. She sounded the battle-cry of “Save the motherland, fight the invaders on land and the sea and push them back to the waters”. Abbakka led her men a desperate counter attack in her firm resolve to safeguard the freedom of the motherland to the last breath of her life.
The indomitable Queen came under a barrage of gunfire and was grievously hurt. Her loyal soldiers carried the Queen away so that the trecherous aliens do not lay their perfidious hands on her. Abbakka Devi was whisked away to the palace. Even as she breathed her last the Queen was heard sighing, “Push them back, throw them into the sea”. That was the brave Queen’s swan song. (PIB Features)
The Portuguese Commander presented himself before the emperor soon. The emperor chastised the Commander and shouted with anger, "Are you not ashamed of being defeated again and again by a black dwarfish Indian woman by name Abbakka? Who is she? Is she superhuman as to challenge us? The entire Europe today is talking about our defeat; in the Clubs, the Churches, the markets and everywhere people are discussing about our defeat by a woman. Though she is our enemy, I have great admiration for that heroic woman Abbakka. Tell me something more about her".
The Portuguese Commander heaved a sigh of relief and said, "Your Majesty, there is a small State called Ullala, very near Mangalore, where we have our trading centres and that area is under our control. Abbakka belongs to a family known as Chauta; her husband belongs to Banga family and Mangalore is under his control. But husband and wife do not like each other and have fought many battles too. Taking advantage of their quarrel, we helped the husband to wage a war against his wife Abbakka, but she repulsed us and we had to withdraw many times."The Portuguese Minister joined the conversation and said, "There are two queens by the same name Abbakka, the mother and the daughter. Both of them have defeated us but the daughter Abbakka is more dangerous and she is the one who has brought disgrace to us". Are there no kings in that kingdom, asked the emperor. "Your Majesty! They have a different system of succession. If a king dies, his sister's son becomes the King. If the sister has no son, then the daughter gets the kingdom. This is called Aliya Santana in their language. That is how senior Abbakka's kingdom has come down to junior Abbakka about whom we are talking". The emperor walked out in disgust.
Pietro Della Valle was an Italian traveller and when he was in Persia, he had an audience with Persian emperor Shiya Abbas. During the conversation with the emperor, Pietro told him that he would be visiting India shortly. The Persian emperor was supremely happy and told Pietro, "When you go to India, please go to Mangalore without fail. There is a pepper queen by name Abbakka, who is the talk of the town in Europe for her victory over the Portuguese. Do not miss to meet that heroic woman.
The wretched Portuguese are most unethical I have seen. There was a family quarrel between Abbakka and her husband Narasimha, and taking advantage of this, the treacherous Portuguese sided with the husband and made him fight a war against his own wife. Of course, ultimately queen Abbakka taught a lesson both to her husband and to the Portuguese. I admire that great queen". Pietro became curious and he came to India, went to Ullala and met the queen Abbakka many times and had dinner with her and subsequently wrote gloriously about her. The Portuguese had the monopoly of trade in the Western coast and compelled all the kings and merchants to sell pepper, cardamom, cotton, rice and other commodities to them only at very low prices.
Abbakka refused to the Portuguese terms of trade. She sent ships laden with pepper and other commodities directly to Arabia and Persia and earned huge profits. The Persian and Arabian merchants were also happy because the prices quoted by Abbakka were far less as compared to the prices demanded by the Portuguese and hailed Abbakka as a trader practicing fair means. She became famous as pepper queen. The Portuguese obstructed her trade and waged wars against her. Undaunted Abbakka with the help of Keladi King Venkatappa Nayaka and Zamorin of Calicut, fought against the Portuguese, seized four Portuguese ships and made the Portuguese withdraw.
But the Portuguese did not keep quiet. Again and finally in 1618 AD, the Portuguese attacked Abbakka again and she crushed the Portuguese and their allies and this made great news in Europe, Persia and other countries. Abbakka, though a queen of a small kingdom of Ullala, took great interest in the welfare of her subjects helping them in agriculture by building dams. She also took other measures to help the people.
Actually, she always worked with her people taking part personally and earned a good name as a benevolent queen. She was very simple, always dressed in simple attire and Pietro mistook her for the first time for an ordinary common woman. She never used a parasol or a white umbrella as all queens do but carried an umbrella made of palm or areca tree feather - like leaves.
But she was the first person to stand against the foreigners, in this case the Portuguese, and put an end to their political ambition, commercial malpractices, religious conversions and destruction of temples. From this point of view, she may be considered as an early freedom fighter. But alas! The historians have not paid attention to this aspect and have neglected her. But she received rich encomiums from Persians and many Europeans including her enemies and they saluted her silently. That is the greatness of Abbakka.