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India@75: Abbakka Chautha, the first Indian queen who fought against colonial invaders

Who could be the first Indian queen who fought against colonial invaders? It could be Queen Abbakka Chautha of Ullal, near Mangalore in today’s Dakshin Kannada district of Karnataka state, who opposed the Portuguese as early as the 16th century.  

Jul 23, 2022, 10:13 AM IST

Who could be the first Indian queen who fought against colonial invaders? It could be Queen Abbakka Chautha of Ullal, near Mangalore in today’s Dakshin Kannada district of Karnataka state, who opposed the Portuguese as early as the 16th century.  

She was the queen of the spice-rich kingdom of Ullal, lying between the rivers Gangavali in the north and Chandragiri in the south. It was just a few years after the Portuguese had stepped onto India through Kozhikode to conquer and loot. The legendary Rani Abbakka Chautha taught them a lesson they never forgot.

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Abbakka joined hands with the Samoothiri of Kozhikode, who too had refused to bow before Vasco da Gama and the Portuguese. Backed by an army of Hindus and Muslims, Abbakka could inflict a far greater physical blow on the Portuguese than the Samoothiri. Abbakka could be seen as an early symbol of brave womanhood. She had also fought her estranged husband, who had joined hands with the Portuguese to avenge his former wife. But the marriage did not last long, and Abbakka returned to her kingdom and took over the reins after her uncle passed away.  

Abbakka was the niece of Tirumalarayan, the Jain king of Ullal. Following a matrilineal system, Abbakka was trained to be the next ruler and was imparted training in warfare and weaponry from her childhood by her uncle. She was married to Lakshamanappa Arasu Bangaraja II,  the prince of the neighbouring kingdom of Banga.

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The Portuguese had by then moved and taken over Goa after they failed to conquer Kozhikode. They next targeted and annexed Mangalore, the second prominent spice port on the Western coast. Their next destination was Ullal, where the vastly superior Portuguese force met with unexpectedly powerful resistance from Queen Abbakka and her Hindu-Muslim army. She soon formed a joint front against the Portuguese comprising of the Samoothiri,  king of Bidnoor, and Bijapur Sultan. Samoothiri lent the services of his commander Kutty Pokker Marakkar to the queen. 

In 1555, Abbakka successfully thwarted the Portuguese assaults on Ullal led by Admiral Alvero de Silvero and later by Joao Pixto. However, subsequently, a hugely reinforced Portuguese army led by their Viceroy Anthony Norona himself brought Ullal to the kees. But Abbakka escaped and sought asylum in a nearby mosque. But she was not cowed down as she launched a lightning attack on the Portuguese cantonment at night and even killed Pixto and his admiral Mascarenas.  

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In 1575, Abbakka faced a severe loss when the Portuguese assassinated her Malayali commander Pokker Marakkar. Abbakka, too was captured soon and imprisoned. She bravely resisted even inside the prison and met with a martyr’s death. Abbakka is revered in her homeland as Abhaya Rani, the queen who knew no fear.

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