The Zamorin's forces - mostly the navy under the Marakkars - were deployed outside Calicut's territories on the western coast during the first half of the 16th Century. One such instance was in defence of the brave Queen of Ullal, Abbakkadevi - a story which our north-centric historians have largely ignored.
Our knowledge about Queen Abbakka and her valiant fight against the Portuguese comes mostly from Arab and Portuguese sources. It appears the Italian traveller Pietro Della Valle who toured India during this period had heard about the brave queen from no less a person that the Persian Emperor Shah Abbas who was all praise for the queen's courage in foiling the Portuguese bid to occupy the Ullal Port. (The accompanying picture commemorates Pietro meeting the Queen)
After the fall of Vijayanagar in 1565 the region was fragmented, with many local chieftains asserting sovereignty. Thus came into being on the western coast alone, several tiny prinicipalities like the Santras of Karkala, Bangas of Mangalore, Sawants of Mulki, Chowthas of Mudibidri, Ajilas of Venur etc.
The Chowthas of Mudibidri were a Jain ruling dynasty, although their family deity was Somanatheswara of Ullal, a Hindu temple. Ullal was the most important port of the principality and Rani Abbakkadevi II was crowned the Queen of Ullal by her uncle, Thirumala Raya, in the tradition of the matrilineal system which the Chowthas followed. She was given in marriage to Lakshmappa Bangaraja of the mighty Banga dynasty of Mangalore. But the political alliance did not last long and the Rani left her pro-Portuguese husband and shifted to Ullal with her three minor children. Her husband did not forgive her for this, as subsequent events would show.
The Portuguese who had established themselves in Goa were plotting to expand southwards and re-establish their monopoly of the spice trade by trying to subjugate the coastal rulers. They were able to win over the Mangalore Prince by offering sops, but the Rani of Ullal would not give in. Ullal Port was a prosperous trade centre and used to export spices and other produce to the Middle East under the protection of the Zamorin's fleet. Often goods from these ports were transported and aggregated in Calicut for export.
The Portuguese seized one of Ullal's ships in mid-sea in 1555 and Abbakka retaliated by attacking the Portuguese factory in Mangalore. Although the Potuguese responded in force, Abbakka managed to organise a band of Mogaveer (fishermen) raiders aided by Moplah soldiers to raid Portuguese warships at night and set them afire, killing any sailor who attempted to jump out into the sea.
After an interval, the Portuguese again rose against the Queen in 1568 (? the dates are a bit hazy in the Abbakka story), worried by the increased volume of trade through Ullal port which did not honour the Protuguese system of cartaz. They issued an order that her alliance with the Zamorin was illegal and that her direct trade with Persia was an unfriendly act. When the Portuguese finally attacked again, the queen defended her territory valiantly and preferred to die fighting rather than surrender to the enemy. (There is a Portuguese version which says that she was captured but died fighting while in captivity - much like the contemporary 'encounter' stories put out by our Police!)
The Zamorin's General Kutty Pokkar Marakkar led the naval forces in this final battle against the Portuguese and managed to destry their fort at Mangalore. But he was killed by the Portuguese while returning triumphantly from Mangalore.
It is sad that so little is known about the efforts of the Zamorins to maintain free trade on the seas against attempts to monopolise by the Portuguese, the Dutch and finally by the English. These wars of attrition went on till spices lost their importance and territorial colonisation took over. This perhaps explains why the English colonial historians did not highlight these battles. We hope the Kerala historians take up these strands and provide flesh and blood to the skeletal history of Calicut!