She was something of a non-conformist

news Tuesday, May 24, 2016 - 08:36

In a move that accords recognition to Dakshina Kannada’s distinct cultural history, the Karnataka government has said that it would initiate measures to rename the Mangaluru airport after a queen of the region, Rani Abbakka.

Minister for Health and Family Welfare UT Khader said at an event in Bengaluru on Sunday that the zilla panchayats and gram panchayats would have to pass resolutions, after which the state government could initiate talks with the central government to effect the change of name. In 2013, former MLA Jayaram Shetty had said that the process was being delayed because of laziness.

Of the many choices for a new name, it was the 15th century warrior from the Ullal region, Rani Abbakka, who won over hearts.

Today, Ullal is a small town about 15 km from Mangaluru, the district headquarters, and still houses the ruins of Abbakka’s fort, from where she warded off naval attacks by the Portuguese.

Who is Rani Abbakka?

There are a number of stories and legends about Rani Abbakka, a valiant queen of Ullal, which was a tiny kingdom in Tulu Nadu (comprising present-day Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts in Karnataka and some parts of north Kasargod in Kerala).

Rani Abbakka was trained masterfully in military strategy and diplomacy. Her dynasty passed down crowns through the maternal family, and so she was crowned Rani Abbakka Chouta II by her father.

Immortalized in history and folklore as a persistent and fiercely brave warrior, she is often compared to Kittoor Rani Chennamma and Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, who in fact only ascended to her height of fame 300 years later.

In the 1550s and 60s, Tulu Nadu's history is splattered with various battles that she fought against the Portuguese, refusing to give up her kingdom or pay tribute. Her army was strong and had comprised soldiers of all castes and also Muslims, although she herself was Jain by faith. Her ability to unite rulers around Ullal region gave her great strength in resisting the Portuguese.

She was engaged to Lakshmappa Arasa, the King of the Banga principality in Mangalore but their marriage was short-lived. Seeking revenge, Lakshmappa sided with the Portuguese and Rani Abakka lost the advantage of military alliance with Banga. In 1569, Ullal was won over by the Portuguese. It is said that she rebelled even when imprisoned till her death.

Her deeds are remembered and retold in popular folk theatre form of Yakshagana. Dubbed Abhaya Rani, or the fearless queen, it is said that Abbakka was dark and good-looking. Legends boast that Abbakka was known to have used Agnivana (fire-arrow) in her fight against the Portuguese.

Archival records, travelogues of several Portuguese travelers and historical analysis suggest that Abbakka had two daughters, who fought against the Portuguese between 1530-1599 for the same kingdom. In folklore, however, all three women are known by the same name. Although she didn't live that long, her memory lived on in her equally fierce and brave daughters.

Around 3,000 objects of life can be found today at Rani Abbakka Tuluva Baduku Adhyayana Kendra (Centre for Research on Tuluva Life and Culture) in Bantwal, Dakshina Kannada district. They were curated by Tukaram Poojary, a teacher by profession, who is maintains that Rani Abbakka was the first woman freedom fighter of India.

“As a person who has made a career out of teaching history, I cannot allow an important freedom fighter to be forgotten just like that. Let the generations of future historians derive inspiration from it and dwell deep into Rani Abbakka’s life,” Poojary, who heads the Centre, said.

A bronze statue of Rani Abbakka was erected in Bengaluru too.