Queen Abbaka of Ulla

Queen Abbaka of Ulla

The Unsung Warrior

In the 15th century amid the race for the Arabian Sea between the Britain,France and Portugal, the story of Queen Abbaka of Ulla is one that has remained untold. A stunningly beautiful queen proficient in the nuances of warfare as well as diplomacy, Queen Abbaka's story will unfold in the the following lines.
Even as feats of valor of women in military history increasingly comes to the limelight, one story that remains untold is that of the Indian Queen Abbakka of Karnataka. Abbakka was a female ruler living in 15th century India, at a time when the European colonizers including Britain,France and Portuguese were immersed in an intense competition to control the Arabian Sea. Despite the puissance of the Portuguese, Abbakka, recalcitrant by nature, held on to her beliefs and firmly resisted and at times, even defeated the invaders militarily.

Abbaka was born to the royal dynasty of Chowtas, who ruled over a large domain with the port settlement of Ullal on the Arabian sea-face as their subsidiary capital. The Chowtas followed a matrilineal system by which their leaders were to be the female members of the dynasty, a system proved to be effective by the history of popular and efficient female rulers. The patriarchal leader of the dynasty, Thirumala Raya, ensured she had a sound training in martial arts and sword fights along with classes in diplomacy. By the time she was sent to Ullal, she was adept in in fencing and cavalry combat. She had been taught the strategies and the nuances of warfare. She was known to have had a magnetic personality and for her indomitable spirit which in turned resulted in great popularity among her people.

In the race for the Arabian Sea, the Portuguese had the upper hand and consolidated their position after acquiring Goa. Setting up an armada to monitor the flow of ships to South India, they demanded revenue from both the arriving ships as well as the local chieftains. Abbaka was a Jain by faith, yet her administrative system including her army was well represented by Muslims as well as Hindus of all castes. The Chauta king Thirumala Raya astutely arranged an alliance of marriage between Abbakka and Lakshmappa Banga-raja of the powerful Banga dynasty of Mangalore. Even though at the time it strengthened her power, it was soon proved to be an unwise decision. Queen Abbaka fiercely rejected the Portuguese demands for trade links and payment of revenue. She prognosticated that would pave the way for the Portuguese to conquest the land. It would also mean bowing to their authority and bowing to a foreign power was something the mighty queen would never have done.[3]

The Portuguese, agitated by the queen's effrontery, launched an attack in south Karnataka coast in 1525, when they destroyed the Mangalore port, 8 km from Ullal.[1] Alerted by the incident, she started preparing to protect her kingdom by building up an army. She strengthened her relations with the Muslim communities by signing a friendship treaty with the Zamorin of Kozhikode, a sworn enemy of the Portuguese.

In the year 1554 or 1555 (the exact dates remain unclear), the First Battle of Ullal took place under the command of Don Alvaro de Silveyra, . When there was no victor, an uneasy truce was declared.

Their plans foiled by the dominating queen, the Portuguese dispatched a much larger army contingent under the command of Louis De' Mellow. The Portuguese were successful this time, despite facing furious counter-attacks by the Queen's army. To the invaders' surprise, the army was backed by the ait of the Maplahs, the Arab Moors as well as the forces of the Zamorin of Kozhikode.[2] The Portuguese embarked on a mission of plunder and pillage and set fire onto houses and plundered the temple and finally set fire onto the city. The Italian chronicler Pietro De' valle observed the Queen's vibrant resistance was on par with that of the British Queen Elizabeth I who defeated the Spanish armada.

Under the pretext of truce, 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 via their intermediaries. Queen Abbaka, however, viewed their demands with contempt and with scorn and turned down their demands stridently. She however, conceded to the demands for revenue and paid regularly until 1567.

In 1567, the Portuguese Army attacked Ullal, when the city was still reeling from the previous assault ten years ago. The Queen Abbaka resisted the invaders furiously. In the same year, the Portuguese Viceroy, Antony Norohna sent General Joao Peixoto to capture Ullal. His contingent advanced rapidly, wiping out the Queen's defense successively. They entered the royal court, but the Queen was no where in sight. She escaped and sought shelter in a mosque. Still, the Queen wasn't content on sitting idle while her men were being slaughtered and her city plundered by the invaders.

That same night, along with 200 of her elite soldiers, she ambushed General Peixoto and his 70 soldiers. General Peixoto was killed along with the majority of the troops accompanying him. The Portuguese soldiers who remained behind in Ullal were meanwhile celebrating their victory and had become drunk. Muslim allies of Abbakka attacked the Portuguese and killed Admiral Mascarenhas with the help of 6, 000 Muslim soldiers.

Their victory was short-lived however, and in 1569, the Portuguese Army not only regained the Mangalore fort but also captured Kundapur (Basrur). They won the confidence of Abbakka's estranged husband, king of Bangher and launched an attack on Ullal. In 1570 she made a pact with the Bijapur Sultan, Ahmed Nagar and the Zamorine of Calicut, who also opposed the Portuguese. Kutty Pokar Markar, General of the Zamorine, fought on her behalf and destroyed the Portuguese fort at Mangalore but while returning home, he was killed by the Portuguese.

As skirmishes continued to occur, the Portuguese resorted to new tactics. In order to cause turmoil in Queen Abbakka's private life, they plotted discord between her and her husband's court at Mangalore. Her husband in Manglore was given a stern warning that the Mangalore settlement would be burnt down if he were to help out the Ullal Queen. Not wanting a repeat of the 1525 siege on Manglore, the king conceded. He was thus prevented from sending reinforcements to help his wife Abbakka in the next round of conflict between her and the Portuguese.

After the general he sent out to capture Abbaka,General Joao Peixoto, was brutally killed by the Queen, the Viceroy of Goa, Anthony D'Noronha himself led 3000 strong troops and a superior armada against Ullal with the vision of overthrowing the queen and annexing the port. The surprise pre-dawn attack, in the year 1581, caught Abbaka and her army off guard. The Portuguese soldiers stealthily advanced towards the Port of Ulla and set off on a spree of indiscriminate killing, wanton destruction and large-scale looting. Abbaka at the time was returning from a family visit to a temple when she heard about the attack. Without a second thought, she hurriedly donned her battle garb and rushed to the battle field, rallying her forces. Her battle-cry "Save the motherland, fight the invaders on land and the sea and push them back to the waters" inspired the people. She led her men in a desperate counter attack with the odds against them.

A barrage of gunfire took the tenacious Queen down. Her forces carried her away from the concupiscent hands of the Portuguese. As she lay dying, she was heard gasping,"Push them back, throw them into the sea". These were the last words of the queen who faced the might of the Portuguese Empire stoutly and defended the land against the invaders to her last breath.[3]

Abbaka, Abbakka


Sources about Queen Abbaka of Ulla are scattered, and the main sources are Portuguese. This might be clouded with inaccuracies as they might be modified in order to glorify the Portuguese rulers. The source material of this article is from various well-established sources and has concocted the various elements of different sources into one informative, article using original text. Queen Abbaka is described as a stunningly beautiful, recalcitrant, woman quite capable of ruling the kingdom as well as male leaders of the era, if not better. Her position in folklore is paramount and she is often considered as the first female Independence fighter of India, long before the arrival of the British.[3]

Film on Abbakka

Bangalore: The legacy of the 16th century queen Abbakka of Ullal will be revived. A 14th century Jain basadi in Ullal where she used to offer prayers is being rebuilt, a film on her is being planned, and a permanent memorial for her will soon be ready.

The film will be made by well-known film personality Jayamala. She told The Hindu that the film was still in the research stage and a number of consultations with the experts had been going on. While historians might have brushed aside Abbakka’s first battle with the Portuguese in 1546 as a small incident where a feudal kingdom was fighting to save itself, this brave queen with her small band of loyal soldiers kept the Portuguese forces out of Ullal and the Dakshina Kannada region. If not the enemy forces would have established their presence here much before they conquered Goa. The previous government had cleared Rs. 68 lakhs for constructing a “Abbakka Bhavan” in Ullal which is going to be a permanent memorial for the queen.

Former president of the Ullal Nagar Panchayat Dinakar Ullal says the town had struggled for a long time to restore Abbakka’s legacy but things started moving only recently. The Abbakka Rani Utsava Samithi had received the government’s approval for the project of Abbakka Bhavan and soon the work would be started. Several MPs and MLAs have promised funds, said Mr. Ullal.

Ullal town first organised the Rani Abbakka Utsav as a Nada Habba of Ullal in 1998. Rani Abbakka fought the Portuguese forces in 1546, destroyed a flotilla of their ships, and drove them away with a handful of her sailors who were a mix of communities, including Muslims, fishermen, Billavas, and Kshatriyas.

But all is not well with the Abbakka Utsav.

The committee headed by Mr. Ullal has found it extremely difficult to augment funds for holding the utsav on the scale of a Nada Habba. The committee has appealed to the Governor to provide funds to hold the utsav to honour the spirited queen.[4]


[1] Neria Harish Hebbar, MD, "The Intrepid Queen Rani Abbakka Devi of Ullal", www.boloji.com/history/028.htm
[2] M.K. Dharma Raja, "QUEEN ABBAKKA’S TRIUMPH OVER WESTERN COLONISERS", Monday, January 24, 2005, Press İnformation Bureau, pib.nic.in/release/rel_print_page.asp?relid=6707
[3] www.thefreelibrary.com/The+Unsung+Warrior-+Queen+Abbaka+of+Ulla-a01073959505
[4] Prof. A. V. Narasimha Murthy, Former Head,Department of Ancient History & ArchaeologyUniversity of Mysore, veerangana.blogspot.com/

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