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The Chalappuram Gang and the Ameen Lodge

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Those turbulent years, Calicut (1920-34)

Calicut under British governance was a different place than you see it today. My own memories of childhood in Calicut take me to the days I spent with my aunt at Ambalakkat house, Chalappuram. I still remember the walk down the road from Ambalakkat towards Tali, turning right and going past the Chalappuram post office, past the gates of the Achutan Girls school and drifting to the Ganapati School, during my younger days in Calicut. And I recall the temple behind N Ambalakkat, the house of Karunakara Menon my grand uncle, Keshava Menon, Norman Achutan nair, the Anakara Vadakath people, and the homes of so many others who are going to be mentioned in this article, though they belonged to a bygone era. As I wrote in a previous article, it was a time when there were horse driven jutkas, cycle rickshaws and hand pulled rickshaws on the road. On those serene mornings, an odd Ex-servicemen bus roared by, scattering the people on the road hither and thither, and people were sometimes witness to a man (people held their noses as the wheelbarrow like cart with the galvanized iron pots passed by) held in much disgust, the ‘thotti’ who would trundle by, head hung low, pushing his night soil cart. Horns were hardly heard, the rickshaw drivers yelled ‘kooyi’ or rang a bell to get a right of way. The 30’s was still different, there was no electricity and the one person who gave a personal account and provided a vivid description of life in Calicut in the 1930’s is ARS Iyer.

Some miles away down the Chalappuram road was the Zamorin’s Padinjare Kovilakom in Mankavu, a place I heard about now and then when the elders talked. Across the road from our South Ambalakkat house was the residence and office of the ageing Advocate and freedom fighter Karaunakara Menon. It was said that he had been jailed often as a freedom fighter. My grandfather Gopala Menon, Karunakaramama’s brother, who used to be the sub registrar of Calicut had passed away before my birth.
KP Keshava Menon

But well, we are not going to talk about such mundane matters, we are instead going to talk about the people who got involved in governance, noncooperation, the independence movement, satyagraha’s, Quit India moves, regional politics and the nasty business of religious and caste divides. All of this came to the fore in a decade commencing in 1920 and ended with a muted crash in 1934 or thereabouts after which the political scene of the region and thence the state changed forever. In the process of generalizing the story, I will introduce to you the members of the Chalappuram gang and the Ameen Lodge, the very people whose dithering and bickering ways, which in reality had started after the 1921 Moplah revolt, culminated in a divide in the Congress organization of Malabar. Their acrimonious relationship held taut during the time when Muslim group called the Hindu Congressmen as Sunday Congress or the Chalappuram Gang, while the Hindu’s called the Muslim faction, the Ameen Lodge.

To get to these turbulent years, we have to touch upon the Khilafat days preceding the 1921 Moplah rebellion and I promise to be brief, as it has previously been covered in other articles. Indian nationalism was on the rise following the Jalianwala Bagh massacre in 1919 and the imposition of the Rowlett act. Emotions were running high and the desire to kick the butt of the British was omnipresent. In summary, the Khilafat movement was a pan-Islamic, political campaign launched by the Muslims in British India to influence the British and to protect the Ottoman Khalifa or Caliph following the aftermath of World War I. The effort won the support of Mahatma Gandhi, the Congress and was quickly embraced in Malabar.

1920 was a critical year in Calicut. Annie Besant, Gandhiji and Shaukat Ali came by, exhorting the masses against the British and to support the Khilafat movement. Of Gandhi’s visit to Calicut, the Moplah revolts and the Khilafat days, I had written articles referenced, which may be perused if interested.

Annie Besant chaired the Malabar District Political Conference held at Manjeri on April 28, 1920.  Various prominent leaders of Calicut such as K.P. Kesava Menon, Manjeri Ramayyar, M.P. Narayana Menon, K Madhavan Nair, Abdul Khader, P Moideen Koya, took part. A non-cooperation resolution was adopted. The meeting passed a resolution protecting the rights of the tenants of Malabar, which of course raised the ire of landlords and as a result of which they dissented and left the Congress. The Moplah outrage act was also discussed. The District Congress Committee was now reorganized as the Kerala Provincial Congress Committee. Keep in mind that while a District Congress Committee had already been formed in 1908 it was not until 1916 Palghat conference with the founding of the All India Home Rule League that Malabar began to awaken politically.

Various matters occupied the minds of our elders and activists in Malabar. On one hand the desire to oust the British was foremost, on the other hand, the local issues relating to the tenancy act, the urge to get out of the matrilineal society norms was on the other. Pressures were building from both the lower castes as well as the Moplahs regarding the tenancy aspects. The middle class Nair community was at gearing up for a formalization of inheritance norms, away from the matrilineal principles. The wealthy landlords were getting increasingly nervous and then there was the looming issue regarding the concept of marriage in the community. In all, it was a heady mix of local issues specific to Malabar and the pressures to support a larger national cause.

The original Malabar Congress was in reality a Hindu organization, dominated largely by Nair vakils
AV Kuttimalu Amma
(attorneys) from the kanamdar class. The Janmis were the Namboodiris, and the serfs or the Verumpattom holders mainly Moplahs, Tiyyas and Cherumans. With the arrival of the Khilafat, and its forged relations with the Gandhians, the social status of the educated Moplah lot were quickly elevated to the same category as the Nairs and many of them found seats and cemented relationships in various congress committees and working groups. Thus the non-cooperation activities in Calicut were taken forward in relative amity, hand in hand by the Hindus and Muslims. The Muslim activists and leaders who made their presence felt were Moidu Moulavi, Mohammed Aburahman, Hassan Koya Mulla, NP Abu, Nurudheen. It also had other supporters such as AC Raman, Keraleeyan (Kunhappa Nambiar), PC Koran etc.

In 1920 after Gandhiji had come and left, the Malabar DCC became the KPCC and was headquartered in Calicut. Madhavan Nair, Gopala Menon and Moideen Koya were soon arrested for dissent and with that the noncooperation movement started in Malabar. But it was quickly shadowed by the 1921 Moplah revolt.

The 1921 conflict is a very complex subject which I will not get into here, but suffice to say that for various reasons the Moplahs revolted and refused to pay taxes to the British. This snowballed into a violent conflict (starting at Tirurangadi) where religion was used to foment anger and retaliation by the British and some leaders, resulting in the Military being brought in and vicious repression which followed. The horrid tragedy continued for months. Thousands of Moplahs were killed, and wounded by troops, thousands of Hindus were butchered by the rebels, women subjected to shameful indignities, thousands forcibly converted and entire families burnt alive. It was a massive tragedy, the results of which we will now see.

The Congress-Khilafat movement formed by ‘interlocking the discontent of the Moplahs and the common interest of the people of Malabar’ (as EMS put it) ended up in the traumatic events of 1921. The Moplah leader’s cries to leave Hindus alone were not listened to as the bands became undisciplined and uncontrollably violent while the panic-stricken Hindus quickly withdrew their support to the Moplah’s and some even supported the British authorities.  A wedge had been firmly and deeply driven between the two communities as amity degenerated into animosity and eventually enmity.

AbduRahman Saheb
The eventual visible result in the Nair and upper Hindu classes was the edict ‘the Moplahs cannot be relied upon’. Thus there was a lot of nervousness post 1921 in Hindu minds, when it came to working with Moplahs, while at the same time, the Moplah leaders felt the same having seen some Hindus work with the British to protect themselves only during the riots and decry the Moplah leaders. 

Another complaint of the Moplah was that they observed many of the Hindu Congressmen appointed as members of the Hindu Mahasabha, supporting the Aryasabha in reconversions or working as members of the Nair Service society. The gulf between the two groups became so wide that though each claimed to be a group of congressmen, one could not cooperate with the other even in organizing the Congress day to day matters. KPK Menon concluded - Enmity towards the Congress was evident everywhere.... Some Hindu leaders accused the Congressmen of treason for not joining the Khilafatists.... The Muslims complained that those who had induced them to join the Congress, abandoned them when police oppression and firing by the troops started".

The Hindu congressmen who were vociferous in supporting the Khilafat Moplahs and who had lost their faces and voices, now went into a shell and the congress machine of Malabar ground to a complete halt. Who incidentally were these Hindu congressmen? Keshava Menon, U Gopala Menon, Madhavan Nair, MP Narayana Menon, Ambalakkat Karunakara Menon, AV Kuttimalu Amma and so on. Almost all these gentlemen and ladies resided in the aristocratic area of Chalappuram. As a result, their organization, working sometimes from the home of Madhavan Nair, was termed the Chalappuram congress or the Chalappuram Gang. Many of them were lawyers who had once left the service of the courts and worked fulltime with the noncooperation movement. Now with the turbulent situation, they had gone back to working in the cutcheri, working as lawyers on weekdays.

The British had succeeded in one aspect, planned or unplanned, they had by now managed to split the congress along communal lines in Malabar and arrested its workings, one that was now being touted as Khadi against Khaki.  On top of that they had classified the Moplah as a troublesome character and the situation was such that if a Moplah donned khadi he would be jailed.

It was at this juncture that two newspapers arrived on the scene, each to voice the concerns and objectives of these two leading religious communities, they were the Mathurbhumi started by the above group of lawyers and the Al Ameen (The voice of honesty) by the Moplah leaders. Papers like Malayala Manorama, Mithavadi and the Kerala Patrika were present at that time, but not considered nationalistic enough.

The Mathrubhumi was started by Keshava Menon and Madhavan Nair and had as directors Madhava Menon, Sundaram Iyer, A Karunakara Menon, AR Menon, P Achutan, AV Kuttimalu Amma etc. It commenced publishing thrice weekly from 1923. The paper was conceived as a tool to serve national movement for the attainment of freedom and not as a business for profit. Ramunni Menon and Karoor Neelakandhan Namboothiripad also worked for its promotion.

The Al Ameen was the brain child of Mohammed Abdurahman (Kunju Mohammed) from Kodungallur who had settled down at Calicut. Initially educated at the BEM (now MCC) college in Calicut, continuing his studies in Madras at the Muhammaden College and later the Presidency College. He left Presidency in 1920 following the boycott appeal of Gandhiji and joined the Aligarh University for his Honors degree. He arrived in Malabar in time for the Ottapalam conference, and was quickly thrust into the Congress-Khilafat movement, moving to Calicut, and later into the Moplah revolt at Eranad which he tried bring about some control, but could not. After the revolt, he was punished with a 2 year jail sentence at Bellary and Madras for disseminating false information about the government. When he arrived in Calicut after a rigorous sentence in 1923, he found the apathetic Hindu congressmen and the withdrawn Moplah congressmen doing nothing much for the cause of Indian freedom.

The Al Ameen ironically was started with the help of an appeal by Mathrubhumi to support Abdurahman’s effort. The founders and supporters lived at the Al Ameen lodge owned by Moidu Maulavi and that is the reason why they were called the Ameen lodge gang. The first issue came out in Oct 1924 and Mathrubhumi officially welcomed it with an article. In June 1930 it became a daily and was perpetually in debt. It is stated that the British dreaded many a provocative article published by it (e.g. the communist manifesto in Malayalam) and its support for the Muslim voice.

The 1927 provincial congress conference brought about a small amount of reconciliation. The Simon commission recommendations had to be protested against, boycotted and Swaraj had to be declared.The Malabar Tenancy act of 1929 was released and came in support of the kanamdars to provide them the required protections against eviction. But it also resulted in creating a new substrata of mini landlords. The divide now reduced from three to two and a semblance of haves and have-nots (the verum pattakars) an unbalanced situation which a younger groups of socialists led by Kelappan and EMS in the congress were soon to target. The lower classes were observing all this, lukewarm in supporting the congress which they believed were only favoring the landlords as mentioned earlier. A concept that there would be a congress for the rich and a congress for the poor was being bandied about by leaders like Krishna Pillai and the younger leaders.

The plan to start the next phase civil disobedience movement was debated for a while, and it was finally under the leadership of K Kelappan that the youth started their march for the Salt Satyagraha at Payannur joined by Abdurahman. Slowly Calicut caught on and a salt Satyagraha was organized in Calicut in May 1930 by Abdurahman, Krishnaswamy and Kelappan. Abdu Rahman was jailed again.

Meanwhile the two papers coexisted but were different in character. The Al Ameen paid no heed to authority, while the Mathrubhumi was cautious, desiring longevity. Al Ameen frequently decried Mathrubhumi’s silence on certain topics as a sign of its servitude to the British. But they were not too acrimonious and settled up usually, at the end of the day. It was on one such occasion that Abdurahman called the cautious Chalappuram members as the Chalappuram gang of Sunday Congressmen. The lawyers worked for the courts on weekdays and halfheartedly for the congress on Sundays, so said Al Ameen and the socialist cadre youngsters. It was in those days that the Hindu part of the KPCC exhibited the two stark factions, the upper caste Chalappuram gang and the so called Kelappan or Gandhian group.

The Guruvayoor Satyagraha was another event which made the upper caste Chalappuram gang stand apart. The fight to get entry for all Hindus into the temple heated up, with even Gandhiji involved and during this event, most of the Chalappuram congressmen sided with the trustees and the Zamorin in opposing it or by not protesting. This was something that further alienated it from some of the younger working class members of the congress led by Kelappan, EMS, Manjeri Ramayyar etc.

The Calicut Municipal Election in 1931 and the consequent developments which caused a loss of homogeneity and unity among Congressmen of Malabar is something to be briefly looked into, next. Abdurahaman was allotted the VI ward, where he had little chance of winning. Protesting, he got the VII ward from where he won handsomely. Regrettably, he did not get the nod due to a communal divide and Abdurahman stayed away from Congress activities for a while. The writings in the newspapers became acrimonious and Abdurahman did not lose the opportunity to attack the Chalappuram gang as often as he could. The rivalry continued into the 1934 elections where again Abdurahman was allotted Kelappan’s ward and got defeated, protested and left. Then came the CLA elections, where again Abdurahman lost to Sattar sait.

As squabbling was going on between the seniors, the younger group with socialist leftist views 
supporting the working classes strengthened with AKG, Krishna Pillai and EMS Namboothiripad. Very soon, they had occupied a position of popularity and control. The CSP and subsequently the Muslim league formation is yet another story, and we will get into that in the course of time. That was eventually to deal a death blow to the ageing rightist group, though anti British activities continued their course, though slightly dampened as Nehru was heard to remark once.

During and after the Salt Satyagraha, women increasingly enrolled themselves as volunteers. Many went to jail braving police harassment. Kuttimalu Amma was a classic character and was associated with the Chalappuram gang not only as the wife of K Madhava Menon, but as an activist in her own right. Many others can be listed, like Karthiyayani Amma, Narayanikutty Amma, Gracy Aron and Meena Ammaal.

As it is time to wind up, let us check what happened to all these people as time passed by. Abdurahman continued with the CSP faction, his Al Ameen folded in 1939 and Abdurahman soon drifted towards NSC Bose and the INA, getting jailed again. The Mathrubhumi thrived, but the Chalappuram gang aged and struggled with the internal left right rivalry and the rising young Turks of the CSP. Keshava Menon as you will recall went to Malaysia and Singapore, got involved with the IIL and INA. U Gopala Menon continued with his legal work and the bar association. Madhavan Nair passed away in 1933. Madhava Menon was imprisoned often but continued with Congress and Mathrubhumi administration at Calicut. Ambalakkat Karunakara Menon was also involved with administrative capacities and was arrested in the Satyagraha movement and Quit India movement, and eventually got to working for the Harijan Sevak Sangh. Kuttimalu Amma also went to jail fighting the British and continued with the KPCC for a long time. Many of those old aristocratic houses are not to be seen in Calicut anymore. I heard recently that Karunakara mamas North Ambalakkat house had been sold off. The South Ambalakkat house where I grew up is still there and I had seen it a couple of years ago, but I guess it is all a matter of time when these things will be just history.

It was in the course of these studies that I came across an interesting tidbit. During these troubling 20’s, we knew of course that covering the upper half of their bodies was neither the norm nor permitted for women of the lower classes. In fact men were also supposed to be bare bodied, as serfs. Only Nair’s and upper classes could wear shirts. As these freedom movements strengthened and took hold, all men took to wearing shirts and of course, the women too were clad in blouses. But there was another matter of interest. I read that only Nairs could sport a mustache in old Malabar and that it was during the freedom movement when many other classes took the opportunity and started sporting mustaches. It was a big thing, and to this day you will see most Malayalee’s continuing to sport mustaches, for it was not just something manly, it was perhaps a little act of protest and equality!

Well, those were different days when egos, ideology, religions, classes, castes and communities clashed. For a while the singular desire to be free from the British united everybody, and in that path to freedom, true character and grit was exposed. But as we all saw, those undercurrents continued to direct or misdirect many of the characters as days passed by, and as we know, they still do. It is true that each party had justifications for their actions, and the debates will continue on for ever. Maybe it will all change one day, when such petty aspects don’t matter anymore, maybe it won’t. Who knows???

References
Stealing Congresses’ thunder – Ronald J Herring, (When parties fail – ed. Kay Lawson, Peter H Merkl)
Congress and Kerala Politics – KS Nayar
History of the Communist movement in Kerala – Dr E Balakrishnan
Kerala society and politics – EMS Namboothirpad
Mohammed AbduRahman- NP Chekutty
How I became a communist - EMS Namboothirpad
Who’s who of Freedom fighters in Kerala – K Karunakaran Nair
Peasant Protest and Revolts in Malabar during the 19th and 20th Century - Dr. K. N. Panikkar
Political journalism and national movement in Malabar (Thesis) –Thilleri Vasu
Mobilisation against the State and not against the landlords: The Civil Disobedience Movement in Malabar – K Gopalankutty
The Task of Transforming the Congress: Malabar, 1934-40 – K Gopalankutty
Muhammed Abdurahiman: Pursuits and Perspectives of a Nationalist Muslim Thesis - Muhammed Poozhikuth

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