Rani Abbakka: The Forgotten Admiral | Bangalore


A fleet of Indian coast guards off small patrol boats bears the name of the queen of the current Karnataka coast. Even if it is only a memory, the exploits of Rani Abbakka II against the Portuguese are not forgotten in the state. She was one of the few female admirals of India to bleed the Portuguese in the sea and on her lands.

Outlining Rani Abbakka’s exemplary willingness to take on the mighty Portuguese, Suryanath Kamath, who was the editor-in-chief of the Karnataka State Gazetteer, said his planning and tactics of warfare left the invading forces helpless.

“More than 200 Portuguese came to the coastal areas of Karnataka and demanded that the goods be sold at a price set by them. Rani Abbakka protested against the request. She asked the people not to give in to men and with the help of Prince Venkatappa Nayak of Keladi, she took the Portuguese head-on, ”Kamat said.

Rani Abbakka was unwilling to accept the Portuguese embargo as his ships were going to the Middle East to sell spices, fabrics, etc. For this trade, she was in alliance with the Zamorin of Kozhikode. In true family tradition, she continued to challenge the Portuguese and trade directly with the Middle East.

When the Portuguese captured a wealthy ship on her return from Mecca, she planned a covert attack. “One night, its fishermen, the Mogaveeras and the Moplahs, got into boats, slipped among the Portuguese ships. The Portuguese navy had to retreat with heavy losses. It was one of the few times the Portuguese lost to an Indian kingdom, ”Kamat said.

The historian referred to the family tradition because her mother Rani Abbakka I, known as the Queen of Ullal, was also a fierce enemy of the Portuguese. “She worked in close alliance with several chiefs of Malabar and against her husband who was an ally of the Portuguese,” read the gazette’s notes about her.

Dr Tukaram Poojary, a retired history professor who researched Abbakka, said her husband Lakshmanappa wanted to join the Portuguese, so she left him. “Then she took the lead of Ullal, which she got while the matriarchal system was practiced at that time. She faced the Portuguese in three battles, ”he said.

According to records, she confronted the Portuguese when she decided to stop paying homage to them when they attacked the chief of Cannanore (now Kerala), her former ally in 1555. Three years later, the Queen confronted the Portuguese in aiding a navy attack led by Raja de Cannanore against the Portuguese.

“The Portuguese were so enraged by this that they reduced Mangalore to ashes. The queen again stopped paying homage to the Portuguese, when they declared war on her ally, Raja de Cannanore in 1566.

In 1567, a punitive expedition was sent against her by the Portuguese governor under Joao Peixote, according to the Gazette. The Portuguese army attacked Ullal under General Joao Peixoto. He seized the city and occupied the palace. However, the queen managed to escape and hide in a mosque. In the middle of the night, with 200 soldiers, she attacked the Portuguese and managed to kill General Peixoto and 70 soldiers. The invaders fled to their ships. She followed and killed the Admiral of the Fleet.

In 1588, however, the Viceroy of Goa Anthony D ‘Noronha led another attack on Ullal with a large Armada. Ullal fell and was destroyed in this attack. The queen also died, according to legend, leading her men from the front.

But after his death came Abbakka II. “It was during his reign that the Portuguese suffered one of the biggest naval battles on the subcontinent. Abbakka, the second, took over in 1594. It gained great fame throughout the Indian Ocean by attacking and burning the Portuguese fleet in 1618. This allowed the Portuguese invasions to stop in the coastal regions of the Karnataka, ”Poojary said.

News of Portugal‘s loss to a woman made international news across Arabia, Persia and Europe. Subsequently, the Portuguese never attempted to attack Ullal or interfere with his business activities.

Learning of this queen’s heroism, the Persian traveler Pietro dellaVelle visited her court in 1623. Her travel diary provides a useful account of her personality and concern for her people. “She was a gentle woman of great dignity, dressed in simple clothes, but had an attractive figure. Although her outward posterity and habit were more of a dirty kitchen maid than a delicate and noble queen; her graceful voice and her prudent and judicious speech revealed her nobility ”, tell the tales of Pietro dala Velle.

While the archives contain few details of this queen’s exploits, it is folklore, especially the art form of Yakshagana, that sheds light on her life. One of these accounts tells of a tactic of war used by the Queen. A torch made from dried coconut leaves, known as a “thoote” in the Tulu language, was used by soldiers to attack ships.

Abbakka’s soldiers used the thoote as a striking war strategy. Hundreds of these thootes were swung like arrows at enemy ships that were anchored near the coast or offshore. When the ships caught fire, many lost their lives. The rest of the soldiers would jump into the sea to save themselves only to be killed by Abbakka’s soldiers who fought with swords and spears.

As debates over women in combat roles continue, history, particularly Abbakka’s story, shows how the country has a rich history of women leading the armies and navies on the front lines. .


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