Friday, 8 February 2013

The spice queen

She was perhaps the last known warrior in Karnataka to use the Agni Bana or fire arrow. A devout Jain, she never hesitated to take to arms when the situation demanded.
She was well-trained in martial arts. State craft and even diplomacy. The spice trade flourished in her kingdom and she came t be called the Spice Queen. The rich trade in spice earned her many enemies. The Portuguese, Muslim rulers and even her own husband made many attempts to overthrow her and capture her territories.
She is said to have ascended the Tulu Nadu  throne in 1525 and ruled till 1570 during which she weathered several attacks from the Portuguese, Muslim rulers, Zamorin of Calicut and even her husband.
Though a Jain, she cared for all other religions and her secular nature cans be gauged from the fact that most of her soldiers were Muslims, Mogaveeras (fishermen) and from other communities. Jain soldiers were only a miniscule part of her army. She also had her own navy.
Historians today agree that  she should be recognized as the first Indian woman to fight foreigners. She is also the first Queen from coastal Karnataka to take on the Portuguese Army again and again and defeat them.
Her staunch opposition to the Portuguese put paid to their hopes of expanding their kingdom from their base in Goa. Try as much as they could, they could not break the Queen. They finally joined hands with her husband and tried to overrun her kingdom.
This is the brave and little known queen Abbakka, who belonged to the Chowta clan of Moodabidari in coastal Karnataka.
In the early part of the 16th century, the Portuguese conquered Goa from the Adilshahis of Bijapur and they exported spices, rice, cotton, clothes to the Gulf and other countries.
The Portuguese wanted to monopolise trade in spices and banned its export from any coastal Indian Kingdom. They wanted spices and other goods to be sold through them only.
Abbakka refused to bow to their demands and  the Portuguese declared war. However, Abbakka counter attacked and seized four of the Portuguese ships. A humiliated Portuguese had to withdraw their forces. The Zamorin of Calicut and Venkatappa Nayaka of Keladi had helped the queen in this war.
However, the Portuguese did not give up. They once again attacked Ullal in 1567. The Portuguese set the city on fire and ravaged temples, palaces and other structure sin Ullal. When Joao Pixeto entered the palace with his soldiers, Abbakka escaped through a secret tunnel.
She then took shelter in a masjid near Ullal. She then counterattacked and at the dead of night, entered Ullal with 200 soldiers.  Joao Pixeto was killed along with 70 soldiers. Another contingent of Abbakka comprising 500 soldiers went after the Portuguese soldiers in Ullal. Admiral Mascarenhas, the chief of Portuguese Navy, was killed in this skirmish.
The Portuguese soon abandoned Ullal and retreated in disarray. In 1585, Abbakka attacked Mangalore, which was under the possession of  the Portuguese. She easily overcame the Portuguese.
Very soon, the name of Abbakka and her exploits reached Europe. She also became a heroic figure in the Gulf. An Italin traveller Pietro Della Valle came to Ullal and met the queen. He has written a  beautiful account of her life and times.
Unfortunately, she had a troubled marital life She was married to Lakshmappa Arasa, the Banga ruler of Mangalore. The marriage failed and Arasa turned on his wife, joining the Portuguese.
By the way, the capital of Abbakka was Puttige. The port town of Ullal was an important centre of spice trade and Abbakka had her palace there too. It was the secondary capital.      
In 1569, the Portuguese capture Mangalore and Kundapura (Basrur). They also managed to capture Abbakka and imprison her. However, she revolted while in prison and died fighting. Even to this day, her brave deeds are frequently recounted in Yakshagana and Bhuta Kola.

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