Rani Abbakka: The First Woman Freedom Fighter Of India

An annual ceremony in Ullal honors the boldest and most influential woman of the previous year with an award named after Rani Abbakka

Abbakka
Bronze statue of Rani Abbakka in Ullal. Wikimedia Commons

By- Khushi Bisht

Rani Abbakka who is also known as Abbakka Mahadevi was the first queen of Ullal. Known for her unwavering bravery, she was one of the first Indians to rebel against colonial forces and was the first woman to have battled the Portuguese in the second half of the sixteenth century.

She was a member of the Chowta dynasty, which is well-known for its matrilineal succession. Her uncle Tirumala Raya prepared Abbakka for the throne and crowned her as the first Tuluva Queen of Tulu Nadu in the year 1625.

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Abbakka was a fascinating child who grew up to exhibit signs of becoming a revolutionary leader. From a very young age, she had been taught military tactics, archery, horse riding, sword fighting, politics, as well as all other aspects of diplomacy. Her fort in Ullal, which has been abandoned and is only left with ruins, remains as a testament to her valor.

Abbakka
Painting depicting the Zamorin of Calicut. Wikimedia Commons

She was married to Lakshmappa Arasa Bangaraja II, king of Banga principality in Mangalore. Their union, however, did not last very long, as Abbakka broke the bonds with her husband and returned everything he had given her.

According to history, the Portuguese invaded and attacked Ullal fort for the first time in 1556, followed by another attack in 1558. These occurrences alarmed Rani Abbakka, who began arming herself to defend her kingdom. Rani Abbakka Chowta presided over a Hindu and Muslim-dominated empire. The fact that she was a Jain, her army was remarkable for its diversity. She believed that bringing such a diverse group of people together enabled her to build an army strong enough to fight the Portuguese.

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Rani Abbakka Tulu Museum is located at Sanchayagiri of Bantwal in Dakshina Kannada. Wikimedia Commons

The Portuguese attempted to capture Ullal numerous times, but she succeeded to repel each raid. Rani Abbakka Chowta, who had been specialized in the various facets of warfare, gave the Portuguese a rough time and deftly used the tactics she’d learned from her uncle.

Lakshmappa Arasa, Abbakka’s former husband was fuming with rage and yearning for a chance to avenge himself. And because he was unable to do much on his own, he joined the Portuguese in their battle against Abbakka. And in 1568 the Portuguese were successful in capturing the royal palace. Abbakka, on the other hand, escaped and sought refuge in a mosque. But at midnight, she alongside her soldiers attacked and killed the Portuguese troops. The attackers were forced to withdraw in shame to their ships.

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Rani Abbakka-class patrol vessel of Indian Coast Guard. Wikimedia Commons

In 1570, she created a coalition Zamorin of Calicut (now Kozhikode) and the Bijapur Sultan of Ahmed Nagar, both of whom were against the Portuguese. The Zamorin’s army fought for Abbakka and demolished the Mangalore port captured by the Portuguese. But later Rani Abbakka was overcome by the Portuguese and was kept behind the bars. She is said to have refused to give up back then, and planned a one-woman uprising in the jail, after which she was executed. According to legend, this “Veera Rani” (Fearless Queen) fought till her breath.

Rani Abbakka is now remembered and revered through folk songs and tales. An annual commemoration in Ullal honors the boldest and most influential woman of the previous year with an award named after Rani Abbakka named “The Veera Rani Abbakka Prashasti”. In addition, the Indian Navy honored her bravery by naming an inshore patrol vessel (The Rani Abbakka-class patrol vessel) after her in 2015.