Queens are usually perceived to be supporting characters but many have carved a niche for themselves with their valor. Chennabhairadevi was one such queen. She earned respect not just from other Indian rulers but also from the Portuguese invaders. It was them that gave her the moniker, “The Pepper Queen” or “Raina de Pimenta”.
Rani Chennabhairadevi’s Rule
Chennabhairadevi ruled the Uttara Kannada district in the late 16th century. She was part of the Saluva Dynasty and ruled for 54 years from 1552 to 1606. This was probably one of the longest reigns in India by a woman.
The kingdom’s capital was Gerusoppa. The city was a flourishing trade center and pilgrimage destination. They mainly traded in spices like pepper, nutmeg and betel nut. Inscriptions and copper coins found in the region show the extent of her kingdom to have touched the south of Goa, Uttara Kannada, Dakshina Kannada and parts of the Malabar.
Rani Chennabhairadevi’ And The Portuguese Craftsmen
The queen was known for providing refuge to skilled craftsmen and businessmen from the Portuguese tyranny. The Portuguese did try to control trading activities from her kingdom in 1559 and 1570 but she thwarted their attempts on both occasions. The Portuguese records talk about her as someone they needed to win over with careful, polite diplomacy.
She also had to protect her kingdom against the Keladi and Bilgi factions which eventually defeated her. She was taken prisoner and Gerusoppa became part of the Keladi Kingdom. Chennabhairadevi breathed her last while she was still a captive.
Monuments Credited To Chennabhairadevi Or The Pepper Queen
During her reign, Queen Chennabhairadevi funded and constructed many temples and forts. The most prominent amongst them are:
- Chaturmukha Basadi: This Jain basadi was constructed in 1562 in Karkala. Carved from granite rocks, this basadi is one of the most prominent historical temples in Karnataka.
- Mirjan Fort: The Mirjan fort stands beside the Aganashini River and is spread over 10 acres. The fort stands mostly in ruins but back in the day, it was famed for its high ceilings, watchtowers and interconnected wells. Chennabhairadevi spent a significant part of her life in the fort.