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Ullal - An account

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And the Abakka Rani

To the north of Kasaragod, where the historical borders of Malabar ends, is Manjeshwar and a little north of it, but south of Mangalore, bordering the Netravati River and facing the Arabian Sea is the small municipality called Ullal (Ullala or Olala). At one point in Malabar’s history, it had a connection to the Zamorin’s of Calicut and with the Portuguese. It is the story of Ullala which we will fish out today, but with some detail and background, for most books just pass it off as a couple of sentences mentioning a minor queen named Abakka Devi or Tirumala Rani. There was more than that, as you can imagine.

We will start with the history of the region when the regional was centered at Puttige. The family which ruled the region was called the Chauta’s and we understand that the first recorded among the rulers was one Vikru Chauta ruling in the 14th century. They were connected with the Vijayanagara kings for a while and under the rule of the Chauta’s, Mudabhidre became a Jainist center (perhaps the Jain connections had started to the earliest of rumors that the Chauta lineage started when a Vijayanagara king had a Jain consort. There is also a purported connection between the Chautas and the Jain Chawdas of Gujarat who migrated after the Solanki clashes) and a few Basadis were built. Sanjay Subrahmanyam states - By all accounts, the control of Vijayanagar over the petty principalities along the west coast, such as Bangher, Ullal, Gangolli, Bhatkal and Gersoppa, was rather limited. These principalities were controlled by local rulers, who had hereditary claims over the local overlordship and paid tribute to Vijayanagar.

Somewhere in the 16th century, following Tirumalarasa Chauta’s rule, a parallel rule started at Southerly Ullala, perhaps by a split faction of the family, following the matrilineal (aliyasanthanam) system, also as prevalent in Malabar. It is around 1571 that the first mentions of queens ruling Ullal and Puttige come to the fore, with a Lokadevi at Puttige and Abakkadevi 1 at Ullala. Recall now that starting from the conquest in 1510, for the Portuguese had settled in Goa and were ruling the seas. 

Mangalore Fort
From this point a number of problems arose between Ullal, Malabar and the Portuguese. Much of the rice export to Malabar took place at the Ullal and from nearby ports using Malabar boats. These were stifled by the Portuguese, setting off intense rivalry and skirmishes. We see events reported as early as 1513 and 1525 when Moplah freight ships were captured and destroyed by the Portuguese.

In 1530 the Portuguese under the command of Nuno da Cunha had crossed the river of Mangalore, which flowed through the Ullal territory, and destroyed the stockade and the fortified positions with the purpose of punishing a rich merchant Shetty, who was in league with the King of Calicut, against them. In fact the Muslim merchants of Malabar had actually been attempting to subvert the blockade of Calicut by sending out the spices to Red sea port buyers using Mangalore ports such as Ullal. Until 1530 the Portuguese had not detected this method!

As the Portuguese became more and more powerful in Kanara, they started to subjugate the local chieftains and it appears that the first major brush the rulers of Ullala had with the Franks took place around 1555-58 when Dom Alvares sacked Ullala, as the Queen was found harboring Calicut vessels in her port. Not much more is known except that the Zamorin of Calicut intervened and helped her out of the trouble, but a latter event is much talked about, something that started with an argument between the neighboring principalities around 1568 as the Northern neighbor the Banghars established a treaty with the Portuguese which the Ullalas could not come to terms with. In the meanwhile, the Portuguese had other plans with Ullala. They planned to build a fort on the south bank to control the access through the river and the border with the Queen’s domain. 

The Viceroy Antao De Noronha decided on cornering the location to commence the building of the
Mangalore
fort, in 1568, but the queen was waiting with a large force in her own ramshackle fort, while the undisciplined Portuguese ended up torching their own tents in a night of revelry preceding the war. In the melee, the Queens forces attacked and a large number of Portuguese were killed. The following days of retaliation resulted in Ullala getting sacked. But after all this, the Portuguese decided against building a fort on the south bank and built their fort on the North bank, in the place allocated to them by the Bangar King Virasimha III.

The queen was named Abakka Devi and this famous attack of 1568 did not go unnoticed. Her courageous stance against the Portuguese was mentioned far and wide and it was at this point that the queen forged a formal relationship with the Calicut Zamorin, to work against the Portuguese in the future. The Portuguese on the other hand had different ideas as the Viceroy Luis de Ataide intervened personally and due to intense mediation, managed to get the queen of Ullala married to the King of Bangar.

An event in 1571 merits mention. The Queen who was friendly with the Zamorin and the Marakkars mentioned to her friends that the Mangalore fort could be taken easily. Kutti Poker, the Zamroin’s representative attacked the fortress following this tip and was clambering it but the servant in the fort threw out a silver chest in defense, knocking down the men scaling the fort using a ladder. Poker and his men ran with the silver but were tracked down by the Portuguese all the way to Cannanore and captured.

The queen also took advantage of the Adil Shah confederacy against the Portuguese in the 1570-74 period. It is also stated that like the Zamorin, she had many thousand Muslims in her fighting forces.The intervening years witnessed the death of the first heroic queen during a battle with the karkala’s, followed by the rule over Ullala by her brother and eventually succession by the second Abakka Devi or Tirumala Devi, her daughter, in the last decade of the sixteenth century, perhaps 1594.

During the last years of the Ullala kings reign, he built a fort in 1589 not far from the Portuguese fort, on the same bank across the river from Ullala. The Portuguese had no choice but to watch it being built by a huge team of over 30,000 men, during its construction, owing to the heavy rains and lack of fighting power. This fort became a huge bone of contention between the Bangas, the Ullala and the Portuguese. Coutinho was deputed later with three galleys and 30 ships to destroy it, late in Dec 1589. After fruitless negotiations, the Portuguese attacked and destroyed much of Ullala, once again. 

The fort however remained intact and the King of Portugal was furious that it had not been destroyed.
Abbakkadevi II renewed the hostile attitude with the Bangas. The fort on the opposite banks, under by the queen was always a threat to the Portuguese who remembered that fateful night of 1568 often and the new queen refused to destroy it. According to an instruction of the king, the viceroy of Goa sent Dorn A Azeveda to Ullala to raze the fortress to the ground and it was finally destroyed by Azeveda, in 1595 or thereafter.

A modern depicition
Abakka Devi
We also hear of her relations with the Kotakkal Marakkars late in 1599 and of support when Kunjali was blockaded, but I could not get too many details about it as yet. In her wars with Banga Raja of Managalore and against the Portuguese, Kunjali had assisted her with captains, ships and soldiers on many occasions. In 1600 however she signed a treaty with the Portuguese and eventually desisted from assisting Kunjali during his final days.

Abakka Devi a.k.a Thirumala devi continued with intrigues against the Portuguese, by siding with the Serra kingdom against the Bangas and by working with the Zamorin in Calicut as well as the Marakkars of Kotakkal. Their intense rivalry with the Bangas continued and it was in 1616 that the Bangars retaliated by attacking Ullala. The queen had no choice but to seek help from the Keladi Nayaks against the Bangas as the Bangas approached the Portuguese for help. Also to be noted here is that the Bangars but naturally, were supported by the Kolathiris of Cannanore. Historians have brought in much confusion between the two Abakka Devis and it is a bit difficult to figure out who is who at times. For example, we see from Vasantha Madhava’s comment - The common boundary between these two chiefs (the Bangar and the Chautas of Ullala) the mutual jealousy, and unhappy marriage of Vira Lakshmappa Banga IV and Abbakkadevi II of Ullala were probably the causes of the wars. At the same time, we have already seen earlier mentions that her mother was married to the Banga King. The Ullalas entered into an uneasy but relatively calm relationship with the Portuguese.

Dharma Raja and Dr Hebbar explain the intrigues and plotting by the Portuguese to work on the queen - The stunned Portuguese decided to bide for time. What could not be won on the battlefield, they knew could be won by treachery and larceny. Lakshmappa Arasa, the Banga king of Mangalore, Abbakka’s husband, was warned not to send any reinforcement to Ullal under the threat of burning his capital of Mangalore. His nephew, Kamaraya was secretly recruited to plot against his uncle, and usurp the throne at Mangalore. The conspiracy by his own nephew and the threat of a Portuguese invasion left Lakshmappa Banga-raja helpless and unable to aid his wife during the next offensive by the Portuguese. In 1567, when Abbakka Devi stopped paying tribute, there was another encounter with the rani, in which she was defeated and sued for peace. Yet, Abbakka remained a non-conformist and a rebel, which irritated the Portuguese to no end. The local legend also says that Rani Abbakka Devi was estranged from her husband, Lakshmappa Banga, who was said to have colluded with the Portuguese and fought against his wife. It is more probable that it was the nephew of her husband, Kamaraya III, who had fought against the queen. The sedition of Kamaraya III against his uncle had been supported by the Portuguese. Consequently he was able to supplant the king and rule Mangalore during the period when Abbakka Devi was opposing the Portuguese advances.

The last phase of her rule is marked by the entry of the powerful Venkatappa Nayaka into the quarrels between the Bangars and Ullalas and the role of the Portuguese in these intrigues. The Portuguese were being supplied with pepper by the powerful Ikkeri Nayak and so they had no plans to go against Venkatappa. But the Bangars had always been their friends and they could not let them down. The Banga king by now separated from Abakka, sulked at the lack of overt support from the Portuguese in going against the Ullalas and the Nayak, retreating often to Kasargod.  These events have been narrated in some detail in Sastry’s book and it is clear that the outright winner in all this was the powerful Ikkeri Nayak, for the Portuguese fortunes were by now, on the wane.

Following this, according to the Italian traveler Della Valle who visited Olala, the Banga king kidnapped his wife and later released her, but the furious queen decided to wage war against him with the help of Venakatappa. He also explains that the Portuguese fort in Mangalore was not really one, but just a house (this explains how many of these scribes spun great stories and tall tales in their memoirs making you conjure up fantastic visions). The Banga war which followed went in favor of the Nayaks and Ullala, but of course she had to pay huge tributes thenceforth to the Nayak. The queen was powerful and was rumored to have finished off her own son when he chose to plot against her, while Delle Valle insists that this is falsehood propagated by the Franks.

This was the situation as Della Valle arrived in the region and proceeded to Ullala. He had heard about the queens and wanted to see the reigning Abakka in person, and his descriptions of the region, Ullal and Abakka Devi, are invaluable visit reports.

Let’s see what he had to say….The Matrimony and good Friendship having lasted many years between the King of Banghel and the Queen, I know not upon what occasion discord arose between them, and such discord that the Queen divorced him, sending back to him, (as the custom is in such case) all the Jewels which he had given her as his Wife.

He reaches olala - The Bazar is fairly good, and, besides necessaries for provisions, affords abundance of white and striped linen cloth, which is made in Olala, but coarse, such as the people of that Country use. At the Town's end is a very pleasant Grove, and at the end thereof a great Temple, handsomely built for this Country and much esteemed. Olala is inhabited confusedly, both by Gentiles who burn themselves and also by Malabar Moors. About a mile off, Southwards, stands the Royal House, or Palace, amongst the aforesaid Groves, where the Queen resides when she comes hither sometimes. It is large, enclosed with a wall and trench, but of little moment.

Having landed, and going towards the Bazar to get a Lodging in some House, we beheld the Queen coming alone in the same way without any other Woman, on foot, accompanied only with four, or six, foot soldiers before her, who all were naked after their manner, saving that they had a cloth over their shame, and another like a sheet, worn across the shoulders like a belt; each of them had a Sword in his hand, or at most a Sword and Buckler; there were also as many behind her of the same sort, one of whom carried over her a very ordinary Umbrella made of Palm-leaves. Her Complexion was as black as that of a natural Ethiopian; she was corpulent and gross, but not heavy, for she seemed to walk nimbly enough; her Age may be about forty years, although the Portugals had described her to me as much older. She was clothed, or rather girded at the waist, with a plain piece of thick white Cotton, and bare-foot, which is the custom of the Indian Gentile Women, both high and low, in the house and abroad; and of Men too the most, and all the most ordinary, go unshod; some of the more grand wear Sandals, or Slippers; very few use whole Shoes covering all the Foot. From the waist upwards the Queen was naked, saving that she had a cloth tied round about her Head, and hanging a little down upon her Breast and Shoulders. In brief, her aspect and habit represented rather a dirty Kitchen-wench, or Laundress, than a delicate and noble Queen; whereupon I said within myself, Behold by whom are routed in India the Armies of the King of Spain, which in Europe is so great a matter! Yet the Queen showed her quality much more in speaking than by her presence; for her voice was very graceful in comparison with her Person, and she spoke like a prudent and judicious Woman. They had told me that she had no teeth, and therefore was wont to go with half her Face covered; yet I could not discover any such defect in her, either by my Eye, or by my Ear; and I rather believe that this covering of the Mouth, or half the Face, as she sometimes doth, is agreeable to the modest custom which I know to be common to almost all Women in the East. I will not omit to state that though she was so corpulent, as I have mentioned, yet she seems not deformed, but I imagine she was handsome in her Youth; and, indeed, the Report is that she hath been much of a Lady, of majestic beauty, though stern rather than gentle.

Her second son Saluva Rairu was living with her when Delle Valle visited her. He continues on explaining how the palace/house is built and furnished, stopping to explain the position held by the Ullala king, and the difficulties he had eating food, served ceremoniously to him. He then moves on to Manel where the queen had gone, to see the brave lady a second time. Their brief audience was again, conducted outdoors.

Accordingly I went and, drawing near, saw her standing in the field, with a few Servants about her, clad as at the other time, and talking to the Laborers that were digging the Trenches. When she saw us she sent to know wherefore I came, whether it were about any business? And the Messenger, being answered that it was only to visit her, brought me word again that it was late and time to go home, and therefore I should do so, and when she came home she would send for me.

But she never did and Delle Valle continued with other pursuits, disappointed. Later he goes to a Krishna temple and documents the visit in great detail. All very interesting original first person reports and invaluable to a Kanara historian.

And of course there are many legends and myths surrounding these queens, multiplying many fold these days with creative writers entering the fray. A comic book by Amar Chitra Katha also provides fodder. She is described as the fearless Abahaya rani, agile and dressed in a sari (we know that is not true), we can read of her relations with her husband who chose to support the Franks, of her ability to fire flaming arrows, of her taking refuge in a mosque and dying in the battlefield muttering – drive the firangis back and so on, but much of all that are just that, legends and myths. Nevertheless, she was a brave queen and revered by her subjects, and she collaborated, schemed and fought for them.

Queen Abakka (Buuka Devi Chauta) passed away around 1640, but it is not clear if she died in a battlefield as legends portray. Ullal once famous for its Jain temple, cotton, rice and cane cultivation, quietened down in history books and vanished leaving behind only the memory of a Jain queen who resisted the Portuguese. A few kings followed, but were not distinguishable in any way.

References
Political History of Kanara - Vasantha Madhava
Goa Kanara Portuguese relations 1498-1763 – BS Shastry
The Travels of Pietro Delle Valle in India, Vol 2- – Hakluyt society
Portuguese hegemony over Mangalore - Mohan Krishna Rai K.
Muslims in Dakshina Kannada – A Wahab Doddamane
The Aravidu Dynasty of Vijayanagara – Henry Heras
The Portuguese in South Kanara. By J. Gerson da Cunha, Journal of Asiatic society
Queen Abbakka Chowta of Ullal and Moodadbidri – Bipin Shah
The Intrepid Queen Rani Abbakka Devi of Ullal - Dr. Neria H. Hebbar


Pics – Della Valle’sAbakka, RS Naidu - Amar Chitra Katha for the modern depiction, Mangalore fort 1783 - Wikimedia