The Khukuri

The kukri or khukuri is a knife, originating from the Nepal, Speaking Gurkhas of Nepal. The knife has an inwardly curved blade, similar to a machete, used as both a tool and as a weapon in Nepal. Traditionally, it was, and in many cases still is, the basic utility knife of the Gurkha. It is a characteristic weapon of the Nepalese Army, the Royal Gurkha Rifles of the British Army, the Assam Rifles, the Assam Regiment, the Garhwal Rifles, the Gorkha regiments of the Indian Army, and of all Gurkha regiments throughout the world, so much so that some English-speakers refer to the weapon as a “Gurkha blade” or “Gurkha knife”. The kukri often appears in Nepalese Gorkha heraldry and is used in many traditional rituals such as wedding ceremonies.

History

Researchers trace the origins of the blade back to the domestic sickle and the prehistoric bent stick used for hunting and later in hand-to-hand combat. Similar implements have existed in several forms throughout South Asia and were used both as weapons and as tools, such as for sacrificial rituals. Burton  writes that the British Museum housed a large kukri-like falchion inscribed with writing in Pali. Among the oldest existing kukri are those belonging to Drabya Shah, housed in the National Museum of Nepal in Kathmandu.

The kukri came to be known to the Western world when the East India Company came into conflict with the growing Gorkha Kingdom, culminating in the Gurkha War of 1814–1816. It gained literary attention in the 1897 novel Dracula by Irish author Bram Stoker. Despite the popular image of Dracula having a stake driven through his heart at the conclusion of a climactic battle between Dracula’s bodyguards and the heroes, Mina’s narrative describes his throat being sliced through by Jonathan Harker’s kukri and his heart pierced by Quincey Morris’s Bowie knife.

All Gurkha troops are issued with two kukri, a Service No.1  and a Service No.2 ; in modern times members of the Brigade of Gurkhas receive training in its use. The weapon gained fame in the Gurkha War and its continued use through both World War I and World War II enhanced its reputation among both Allied troops and enemy forces. Its acclaim was demonstrated in North Africa by one unit’s situation report. It reads: “Enemy losses: ten killed, ours nil. Ammunition expenditure nil.” Elsewhere during the Second World War, the kukri was purchased and used by other British, Commonwealth and US troops, including the Chindits and Merrill’s Marauders. The notion of the Gurkha with his kukri carried on through to the Falklands War.

On 2 September 2010, Bishnu Shrestha, a retired Indian Army Gurkha soldier, alone and armed only with a khukri, defeated thirty bandits who attacked a passenger train he was on in India. He was reported to have killed three of the bandits, wounded eight more and forced the rest of the band to flee. A contemporaneous report in the Times of India, that includes an interview with Shrestha, indicates he was less successful.

Design

The kukri is designed primarily for chopping. The shape varies a great deal from being quite straight to highly curved with angled or smooth spines. There are substantial variations in dimensions and blade thickness depending on intended tasks as well as the region of origin and the smith that produced it. As a general guide the spines vary from 5–10 mm at the handle, and can taper to 2 mm by the point while the blade lengths can vary from 26–38 cm for general use.

A kukri designed for general purpose is commonly 40–45 cm  in overall length and weighs approximately 450–900 grams . Larger examples are impractical for everyday use and are rarely found except in collections or as ceremonial weapons. Smaller ones are of more limited utility, but very easy to carry.

Another factor that affects its weight and balance is the construction of the blade. To reduce weight while keeping strength the blade might be hollow forged, or a fuller is created. Kukris are made with several different types of fuller including: tin chira, dui chira, angkhola, or basic non-tapered spines with a large beveled edge.

Kukri blades usually have a notch  at the base of the blade. Various reasons are given for this, both practical and ceremonial: that it makes blood and sap drop off the blade rather than running onto the handle and thereby prevent the handle from becoming slippery; that it delineates the end of the blade whilst sharpening; that it is a symbol representing a cows’ foot, or Shiva; that it can catch another blade, or kukri in combat. The notch may also represent the teats of a cow, a reminder that the kukri should not be used to kill a cow, an animal revered and worshipped by Hindus. The notch may also be used as a catch, to hold tight against a belt, or to bite onto twine to be suspended.

The handles are most often made of hardwood or water buffalo horn, but ivory, bone, and metal handles have also been produced. The handle quite often has a flared butt that allows better retention in draw cuts and chopping. Most handles have metal bolsters and butt plates which are generally made of brass or steel.

The traditional handle attachment in Nepal is the partial tang, although the more modern versions have the stick tang which has become popular. The full tang is mainly used on some military models, but has not caught-on in Nepal itself.

The kukri typically comes in either a decorated wooden scabbard or one which is wrapped in leather. Traditionally, the scabbard also holds two smaller blades: an unsharpened chakmak to burnish the blade, and another accessory blade called a karda. Some older style scabbards include a pouch for carrying flint or dry tinder.

Manufacture

The Biswakarma Kami  are the traditional inheritors of the art of kukri-making. Modern kukri blades are often forged from spring steel, sometimes collected from recycled truck suspension units. The Eastern Khukuris are Angkhola Khukuri, Bhojpure Khukuri, Chainpure Khukuri, Cheetlange  Khukuri, Chirwa  Khukuri, Dhankute Khukuri, Ganjawla Khukuri, Panawala Khukuri, Sirupate Khukuri translates as Siru grass leaf like. Sirupate is also known as one of Chainpure Khukuri. Khukuris made in locations like Chainpur, Bhojpur, and Dhankuta in Eastern Nepal are excellent and ornate knives.

Western blades are generally more broad. Occasionally the Western style is called Budhuna,, or baspate  which refers to blades just outside the proportions of the normal Sirupate blade. Despite the classification of Eastern and Western, both styles of kukri appear to be used in all areas of Nepal.

There is Khukuri named after Gorkhali General Amar Singh Thapa called Amar Singh Thapa Khukuri. This Khukuri is modeled on the real Khukuri used by the Gorkhali General. The real Khukuri used by Amar Singh Thapa is archived at National Museum of Nepal and is more curvy in nature than other traditionals.

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