KUKRI INFO » Origin of the Khukuri   » The Honor of the Khukuri
KHUKURI \ KUKRI KNIFE:
A mid-length curved knife comprising a distinctive “Cho” that is the national knife and icon of Nepal, basic and traditional utility knife of Nepalese, a formidable and effective weapon of the Gurkhas and an exquisite piece of local craftsmanship that symbolizes pride and valor which also represents the country and it’s culture. Believed to have existed 2500 years ago; “Kopi” is the probable source of the Khukuri that was used by Greek in the 4 th BC. However, khukuri came into limelight only in and particularly after the Nepal War in 1814-15 after the formation of British Gurkha Army. Basically carried in a leather case, mostly having walnut wooden grip and traditionally having two small knives, it is one of the most famous and feared knives of the world.


Some of the famous knives of the world such as the Bowie Knife, the Stiletto, the Scimitar, the Roman Sword, the Machete and so on have all, at one time or the other, played great historical roles as formidable weapons with men have demonstrated raw power and courage during times of battle. The kukri, however, outdoes them all! The great romance and the extraordinary accounts of bravery that this knife evokes are legendary and historic.

There are two names for this knife that are now universally accepted, “Khukuri” or “Kukri”. After going through series of names since someone first tried to speak, pronounce or write when it was first encountered or discovered in the early 1600’s “Khukuri” became the strict Nepalese version that is very common, famous and household name in Nepalese literature. However Khukuri is more known as “Kukri” in the western world and beyond which we see is an anglicized version of the British when they first discovered the knife.

With khukuri’s origin going back to ancient times, the khukuri is not only the national knife of Nepal but is also symbolic of the Gurkha soldier, a prized possession with which he has indelibly carved an identity for himself. The khukuri has been the weapon of choice for the Gorkhas of Nepal and the famous Gorkhali Sainik of King Prithivi Narayan Shah since 16th century and used for almost everything from a utility tool to an effective fighting knife in battle to a unique piece of decoration that has marked its amazing reputation. The successful war campaigns and swift victory of the Gorkhali Sainik against its enemies must be credited to some extent to this unusual and practical weapon. It is also believed that the universal custom of Gurkha Army carrying the khukuri began from Gorkhali Sanik and that was later made an important part of military issue under the British ownership. This custom still exists although the size and type of khukuri have significantly changed and improvised.

The awesome cutting edge of the khukuris was first experienced by the British in India who had to face it in the well-documented battles since 1814 while combating the Gorkhali Sainik in western Nepal. Thus was born the legend and the romance. In the Gurkha soldier's grip, this seemingly small piece of curved steel called Khukuri or Kukri sometimes, becomes an incredibly menacing weapon with which he has demonstrated rare feats of bravery while facing the enemy in many a battlefield.

The khukuri is a medium-length curved knife each Gurkha soldier carries with him in uniform and in battle.In his grip, it is a formidable razor-sharp weapon and a cutting tool. In fact, it is an extension of his arm. When his rifle misfires, or when his bullets have run out, a Gurkha unsheathes his khukuri and makes his final "do-or-die" run on the enemy in a fury to finish the business. This scene created the romance and the legends. What he really did, and still does
with his khukuri, is a super-clean slaughter: The enemy tumbles down in two clean pieces- and in surprise! - because his is the kindest, quietest death because it is the quickest.

At present, khukuri is recognized as the national knife of Nepal. Known more than being just a revered and effective weapon, the khukuri is also the peaceful all-purpose knife of the hill people of Nepal. It is a versatile working tool and therefore an indispensable possession of almost every household, especially of those belonging to the Gurung, Magar, Rai, Limbu and Tamang ethnic groups of central and eastern Nepal. A Nepali boy is likely to have his own khukuri at the tender age of five or so and necessarily becomes skilful in its usage long before his man hood. It is also likely that the boy will have painful encounters with his khukuri but his belief and bonding in the process with the khukuri will teach him how to use and respect it. Moreover, apart from the fact that the khukuri is an exceptionally effective tool that denotes a strong character, it also symbolizes bravery and valor and is a Nepalese cultural icon, it also represents an exquisite piece of Nepalese craftsmanship and is indeed a unique memento for you to take back home from Nepal.

The construction of khukuri is very basic and simple yet it has style and class of its own. In Nepal people still use very traditional and primitive method and conventional tools to make it. In early Nepal most villages would have a metal smith or famously known as “Kamis” who forged khukuirs to their best ability. In today’s context there is a good deal of mass production done in a organized and systematic way where Kamis from different places come together under the same shade and work for a contractor who is responsible for all management, business and financial activities.

The khukuri blades have always varied much in quality. Inferior and high quality steels both have been equally used thus needs an expert eye and skill to distinguish one from the other.

Old heavy vehicles spring (suspension) steel has always been the source of a good quality khukuri blade. Khukuris in the earlier days were much longer than the modern ones and significantly varied in shape and size than its contemporary siblings; and also had steel fixtures. Army khukuris issued to the Gurkhas during the World War era had stampings like name of manufacturer, inspection date, issue date and sometimes name of the military unit. Khukuris were than longer and more curved than the current issues. Along with traditional and village khukuris even the army knives have intensely changed over the years to adapting to the modern times and its developments.

Khukuri grips are normally made from local walnut wood called “Sattisaal” in Nepalese, domestic water buffalo horn and some very fancy from brass, aluminum; and even ivory and rhino horn are used for some very special ones. Basically two types of tang are
applied; one is the rat-tail tang that goes all the way through the handle narrowing its surface area as it finishes towards the end of the handle and its end/tail is penned over and secured. The other is the full flat tang that also goes through the handle but the tang can be seen on the sides of the handle and steel rivets are fixed to secure the handle to the tang and a pommel plate or butt cap is also fitted at the end to enhance the total fixture; this type is called as “Panawal Handle”.
Most of ancient khukuris used to have wooden handle with rat tail tang however, surprisingly, the tail did not come all the way through the handle. The handles were curved unlike the modern ones and had steel or iron fixtures in most cases. The exact origin or who initiated the “Panawal” handle is not known but probably started in early 1900’s when Kamis were influenced by British Knives and they undertook the new better version. It is also likely that the handle demanded better treatment as rat tail handle were not strong enough to hold the long blades when put hard on job. Today different materials are used in the khukuri and are improvised to better suit the demands of today and for better results nonetheless traditional styles have been retained except for a few exceptional and unique ones.

The khukuri is carried in scabbard, “Dap” in Nepalese, where normally 2 pieces of wooden frames are covered with water buffalo hide or other domesticated animal parts and may or may not have brass or steel protective chape depending on the type of khukuri. Khukuri scabbard like the blade and handle has come a long way with many changes and modifications along the
way to keep up with the ever changing time and need. Scabbards from early days did not have belt frog and people used untreated untainted raw leather hide just for the mere shake of carrying the Khukuri blade. Khukuri were thus stuck in the owner’s sash or “Patuka” as frogs or any sorts of holder were missing. After the formation of British Gurkhas frogs were introduced by British to carry khukuri from waist belt and later steel and brass fixtures were used to look good and also to protect the naked tip of the scabbard. Some khukuris have decorative scabbard with beautifully well done wooden, horn, silver, brass work and sometimes ivory. Khukuri that are especially intended for display purpose, are given extra time and effort to its scabbard by using horns, wood and other expensive decorative materials crafting beautiful designs and carvings with traditional and religious symbols in the scabbard. It is a customary in Gurkha Army to present a retiring officer with a Kothimoda khukuri (silver case) to honor his outstanding long and loyal service to the regiment and the country. Khukuri scabbard also has two pockets at the back that carry blunt steel called “Chakmak” for sharpening the khukuri blade and also for striking sparks from flint and a little sharp knife called “Karda” used as a small utility knife. Very old scabbards along with Karda and Chakmak also had an extra leather pouch (Khalti) attached to it used for carrying small survival kits or most of the time small piece of flint to create a spark with the Chakmak. However, army khukuris in world war days and most khukuris in 19th and early 20th centuries did have neither the Karda Chakmak nor the extra pouch. It is only after the mid 20th century Karda and Chakmak were again placed back in the Gurkha knives to maintain the khukuri tradition. Most khukuri at present have Karda Chakmak however Khalti is ignored.

Shapes and sizes of khukuris from ancient to modern ones have varied intensely from place to place, person to person, maker to maker and so forth. Khukuri made in the Eastern village Bhojpur, very famous for khukuris, make fat thick blade where as Sirupate, the most famous khukuri in Nepal is very slim and thin. Similarly khukuris from Salyan are long and slender with deeper belly and Dhankuta, a village in the east make simple standard army type blade but gives emphasis on the scabbard by making it decorative and ornate. Khukuris made during the 18th and 19th century was much longer and more curved than its modern counterparts. The shapes were often very broad belly and heavy or very curved slender and thus very light. Only the standard army issue were and are made of the same dimension and measurement in order to bring uniformity and tidiness to the unit; where as local khukuris still continue to vary from one another making it impossible to characterize or distinguish a particular khukuri from the rest. Moreover, since all khukuris are totally handmade even the same type and version tend to differ a bit leaving the impression of the habitual of the maker and his individuality.
 
 
 
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