Rani Abbakka: India’s first female freedom fighter

By Khushi Bisht

Rani Abbakka, also known as Abbakka Mahadevi, was Ullal’s first queen. Known for her unwavering bravery, she was one of the first Indian women to rebel against colonial forces and was the first woman to fight the Portuguese in the second half of the 16th century.


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

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Abbakka was a fascinating child who grew up showing signs of becoming a revolutionary leader. From an early age she had learned military tactics, archery, horseback riding, sword fighting, politics, as well as all other aspects of diplomacy. His fort of Ullal, which has been abandoned and is now in ruins, remains the testimony of his valor.

Painting representing the Zamorin of Calicut. Wikimedia Commons

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

According to history, the Portuguese invaded and attacked Fort Ullal for the first time in 1556, followed by another attack in 1558. These events alarmed Rani Abbakka, who began to arm himself to defend his kingdom . Rani Abbakka Chowta presided over an empire dominated by Hindus and Muslims. The fact that she was Jain, her army was remarkable for its diversity. She believed that bringing together such a diverse group of people allowed her to build an army strong enough to fight the Portuguese.

The Rani Abbakka Tulu Museum is located in Sanchayagiri de Bantwal in Dakshina Kannada. Wikimedia Commons

The Portuguese tried to capture Ullal on several occasions, but she managed to repel each raid. Rani Abbakka Chowta, who had specialized in the different facets of war, gave the Portuguese a hard time and skillfully used the tactics she had learned from her uncle.

Lakshmappa Arasa, Abbakka’s former husband was furious and longed for a chance for revenge. 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 succeeded in seizing the royal palace. Abbakka, meanwhile, escaped and took refuge in a mosque. But at midnight, she alongside her soldiers attacks and kills the Portuguese troops. The attackers were forced to retreat in shame on their ships.

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Indian Coast Guard class patroller Rani Abbakka. Wikimedia Commons

In 1570, she created a coalition Zamorin de Calicut (today Kozhikode) and the sultan of Bijapur of Ahmed Nagar, both opposed to the Portuguese. Zamorin’s army fought for Abbakka and demolished the port of Mangalore captured by the Portuguese. But later Rani Abbakka was defeated by the Portuguese and kept behind bars. She is said to have refused to give up at the time and planned a one-woman uprising in the prison, after which she was executed. According to legend, this “Veera Rani” (Fearless Queen) fought to her breath.

Rani Abbakka is now remembered and revered through songs and folk tales. An annual commemoration in Ullal honors the most daring and influential woman of the previous year with an award named after Rani Abbakka named “La Veera Rani Abbakka Prashasti”. Additionally, the Indian Navy honored her bravery by appointing a Coastal Patroller (Class Patrol Rani Abbakka) in her honor in 2015.


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Thelma J. Longworth

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