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ABBAKKA RANI (1525-1570)

Abbakka Rani or Abbakka Mahadevi was queen of Tulu nadu and fought the Portuguese in the latter half of the 16th century. She was born at the temple town of Moodabidri into the matrilineal clan of the Chautas, who were Jains and reckoned succession from maternal uncle to niece. Her mother’s brother Tirumala Raya made sure she was trained in martial arts, diplomacy and stagecraft, and crowned her queen at the rich and busy port town of Ullal, the state capital. Though she was a Jain, all communities and races were represented in her administration and her army. The basis of her power was the spice trade. Ullal was a major spice port and had a commanding position on the west coast of India from where the Portuguese hoped to carry out their campaign against their sworn enemy the Zamorin of Calicut. They made many attempts to capture Ullal but Abbakka kept them at bay for more than four decades, earning herself the title of ‘Abhaya Rani’ (the fearless queen). As part of her strategy to foil the Portuguese, she married Lakshmappa Arasa, the powerful king of the Banga dynasty of Mangalore; however the alliance did not last and Lakshmappa turned on her in the end. She also allied with the Muslim rulers of various states in Karnataka and Kerala.

The Portuguese had taken Goa in 1510 and laid waste to Mangalore in 1525. Now, judging Abbakka to be a major impediment to their plans, they demanded tribute but she refused to pay up. On this pretext in 1555, Admiral Dom Álvaro da Silveira attacked Ullal but was repulsed. Two years later the Portuguese plundered Mangalore again. In 1568, João Peixoto, a Portuguese general and a fleet of warships were sent by the Portuguese Viceroy António Noronha to capture Ullal and this time they were successful, overrunning the royal palace. Abbakka escaped and took refuge in a mosque. That night, she gathered around 200 of her soldiers and attacked the Portuguese camp. General Peixoto was killed, seventy Portuguese soldiers were taken prisoner and the rest scattered. Admiral Mascarenhas was killed and the Portuguese driven out of Mangalore fort. Harsh reprisals followed and the Portuguese recaptured the fort in 1569, as well as the town of Kundapur. Now Mangalore became a Portuguese fiefdom, and was united with Portugal against her. In 1570, she formed an alliance with the Bijapur Sultan of Ahmed Nagar and the Zamorin of Calicut, who sent his general Kutty Pokar Markar, to help her destroy the Mangalore fort, a campaign that cost him his life. Abbakka was captured but even after she had been jailed, she continued to fight to the death.

Her story is still a legend in Karnataka, and is often enacted in Yakshagana, a popular folk theatre style in Tulu Nadu. In Ullal, the Veera Rani Abbakka Utsava is an annual celebration held in her memory, on which occasion the Veera Rani Abbakka Prashasti (award) is given to distinguished women. On January 15, 2003, the Indian postal department issued a commemorative cover on her. A bronze statue of her stands in Ullal and another in Bangalore.
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