Once upon a time lived a mighty queen who reigned her kingdom on the banks of the Sharavathi river in Uttara Kannada district. So fierce and loyal to her land was Rani Chennabhairadevi, that a 1591 CE Portuguese record about this queen read, “We must deal with her most carefully and diplomatically. We must be courteous, polite and diplomatic to win her to our side.” During her rule, the queen not only had to resist the advances of the traders from Portugal who tried to take over the ports and the trading activities but also deal with Keladi kingdom and the Bilgi chiefs in the region.
Seeking help from Adilshah, the king of Bijapur in the Deccan, the queen thwarted the Portuguese’s attempt to take control of the trading activities in 1559 and again in 1570.
The Queen and her kingdom
Chennabhairadevi belonged to the Saluva Dynasty and was known to have brought prosperity in the region she ruled for 54 long years (perhaps the longest reign by any Indian woman ruler) between 1552 to 1606 CE. She was famously known as Raina-Da-Pimenta by the Portuguese which literally translates to ‘Pepper Queen’.
Her seat of power, Gerusoppa, was the capital of the Saluva dynasty between the 14th and the 15th century CE. Known as Haive, the capital flourished as a trade centre for a long time, with people coming over from across India to see its beautiful temples.
Inscriptions say her kingdom extended from south of Goa to Uttara Kannada, Dakshina Kannada and the Malabar comprising of Bhatkala, Malpe, Honnavar, Bidnoor, Mirjan, Ankola, and Karwar. Copper coins struck in her name have been found too and serve as evidence of her existence and rule.
Places within the Kingdom like Honnavar and Bhatkala flourished as international and national trading centres under Rani Chennabhairadevi’s rule with items like pepper, betel nut and nutmeg being exported to countries in Europe and in the Middle-East.
The final battle
Many came to Rani Chennabhairadevi seeking refuge from the Portuguese tyranny like the skilled Konkani craftsmen from Goa and Saraswat Brahmin businessmen. And all found shelter in her land.
A follower of the Jain faith, this queen gave orders to construct Chaturmukha Basadi in 1562, a Jain temple situated in Karkala. The benevolent queen also gave grants for the construction of Shaiva, Vaishnava and Shakti temples in the region.
A notable fort constructed under her rule was the Mirjan fort which is at a distance of about 62 kms from Karwar. The fort is built over an area of 4.1 hectares and is constructed from laterite stones. She is believed to have also lived in the fort for a considerable amount of time.
The Keladi and Bilgi factions, which had for the longest time, tried to assert their power and gain control of Gerusoppa, joined forces to defeat queen Chennabhairadevi. They finally won the battle after which Gerusoppa became a part of the Keladi Kingdom. The queen was taken in as a prisoner and breathed her last while held captive.
Despite this, the queen is celebrated in the region for her generosity and her resistance against external powers.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)