Substantial portions of this post are attributed to Naman Chakraborty who narrated this story on Quora.
The year was 1555. India was being clawed and chomped upon by the deceitful colonial cheapskates – on the east were the inglorious British while our western flank was violated primarily by the Portuguese.
The Portuguese colonial power was at its peak in the 1500s. They destroyed the mighty Zamorins of Calicut, defeated the Sultan of Bijapur, took away Diu from the Sultan of Gujarat, established a colony in Mylapore, captured Bombay and made Goa as their headquarters. And while they were at it, pretty much unchallenged, they even ruined the ancient Kapaleeswarar Temple to build a church over it. All this achieved, their next target was the super profitable port of Mangalore.
However, they had not contended with the following fact. Just 14 kilometres south of Mangalore was the small settlement of Ullal, ruled then by a feisty 30-year-old woman named Rani Abbakka Chowta.
Initially, the Portuguese took her lightly and sent a few boats and soldiers to capture and bring her back to Goa. Those boats never came back. Shocked and enraged, they sent a huge fleet of ships this time, under the command of the much-celebrated Admiral Dom Álvaro da Silveira. The admiral soon returned, badly injured and empty handed. Thereafter, another Portuguese fleet was sent – only a few injured from the crew managed to make it back. Then the Portuguese went on to capture the Mangalore port and the fort perhaps planning to tackle the queen from the convenient distance of the Mangalore fort. After the successful capture of Mangalore, a huge army under João Peixoto, an experienced Portuguese General was sent to Ullal.
The brief was simple: Subjugate Ullal and capture Rani Abbakka Chowta.
The plan was fool proof- there was no way a 30-year-old with a few men could withstand the might of an army of thousands with advanced weapons.
The Portuguese reached Ullal and found it deserted. Abbakka was nowhere in sight. They wandered around, relaxed and thanked their stars; just when they were about to call it a victory, the queen attacked with 200 of her chosen men. There was chaos all around and many Portuguese lost their lives even without a fight. General João Peixoto was assassinated, 70 Portuguese were captured and the rest just ran away.
So if you were Rani Abbakka Chowta, who just defeated a large army of aggressors, killed a general, captured fighters and defended her city, what would you have done? Rest and enjoy the moment, right? Right? No, wrong!
Rani Abbakka Chowta, rode with her men towards Mangalore that same night, and laid siege to the Mangalore fort. She not just broke inside the fort successfully, but also assassinated Admiral Mascarenhas, the Chief of the Portuguese power there and forced the remaining Portuguese to vacate the fort. She didn’t stop at this but went on to capture the Portuguese settlement at Kundapura, a full 100 kms, north of Mangalore. And all this just to make a point with the marauding Portuguese that she was no pushover.
We didn’t name our girls after her. We didn’t even teach her story to our kids!
The Portuguese finally managed to get back at Abbakka Chowta by convincing her estranged husband, to betray her for money. She was arrested and put in prison where she revolted again and was killed while trying to escape.
Rani Abbakka Chowta was a Jain who fought against the Portuguese with an army comprising of both Hindus and Muslims, a full 300 years before the First War of Indian Independence in 1857. What did we Indians do to her, as a mark of our respect and gratitude? We just forgot her.
We didn’t name our girls after her. We didn’t even teach her story to our kids. Yes, we did release a postal cover in her name, named a boat after her and erected 2 statues. Yes, just 2 statues in the whole of India for someone who should be our national hero.
We might have got to read a chapter about her in our text books, if she had been a European or an American. Moreover, we Indians are still busy arguing, if it was actually one of her daughters who fought the battles instead of her! Many talk about her being the last Indian to have the power of the agni-baan. In all this cacophony, OUR GENERATION HAS LOST A GREAT HERO – A GREAT SOURCE OF INSPIRATION.