A modern military Gurkha knife (known as a kukri (or khukuri)) is usually about 30cm in length. The kukri scabbard contains two pockets at the back to hold a pair of small knives. One of these, the chakmak, is for sharpening the kukri (or khukuri) and can be used with a flint to create a spark. The other, the karda, is used as a penknife for skinning animals.
Soldiers from The Royal Gurkha Rifles practising their kukri (or khukuri) drills in Bosnia in 2005. Its size and shape make the Gurkha knife an ideal weapon for close quarter fighting.
A Rifleman of the 10th Gurkhas smiles as he tests the edge of his Gurkha kukri (or khukuri). The photograph was taken in Italy in 1945 during the Second World War, a war in which the Gurkha contribution was quite remarkable.
On 13 July 2021, Craig Lawrence was honoured to give a talk for the Gurkha Museum on the Gurkhas' 206 years of service to the British Crown, including their 20 years in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban. The talk, which was the third in the Museum's innovative 'Ghar ma Sunnu' ('Listen at Home') series, was followed by a lively question and answer session facilitated by the Director of the Gurkha Museum. The Q&A explored the future of the Gurkhas, as well as leadership, discipline, female Gurkha recruitment and lots of other interesting subjects.
You can watch the talk by clicking on the 'Who Are The Gurkhas?' image or the clicking the button below the image. The talk lasts for about 50 minutes and includes nearly a hundred fascinating images of Gurkhas from the last two centuries. The talk is available FREE, though there is an opportunity to make a donation to the Gurkha Museum if you wish to.
The Gurkhas are famous for their fighting knife, known as the kukri, khukuri or khukri. Short, broad-bladed and with a distinctive curve, the kukri (or khukuri) Gurkha knife is widely used in the hills of Nepal for chopping wood, killing animals, opening cans, clearing undergrowth and indeed any other task that requires a strong blade, including killing vampires as fans of Bram Stoker's Count Dracula will know! Young Nepalese men learn to use the Gurkha knife from a very early age and it is this deep familiarity with the kukri (or khukuri) that makes it so effective in the hands of a Gurkha soldier. By the time a young man joins the Gurkhas in his late teens or early twenties, the kukri (or khukuri) has effectively become an extension of his dominant arm. This article looks at the background to the famous Gurkha knife and examines why, even after hundreds of years, the kukri (or khukuri) remains a key part of a Gurkha soldier's personal armoury - indeed, the prospect of a Gurkha soldier deploying on operations without his kukri (or khukuri) remains as unthinkable today as it was over 200 years ago when Gurkhas were first recruited into the service of the British Crown by the British East India Company.
If you want to find out more about this famous Gurkha knife, the two books I have recently published about Gurkhas, 'The Gurkhas: 200 Years of Service to the Crown' (published in 2015) and 'Gurkha: 25 Years of The Royal Gurkha Rifles' (published in 2019), both contain well-illustrated chapters that describe the origins of the Gurkha kukri (or khukuri). Click on the 'Books and Articles' tab at the top of the page if you want to find out more about them, as well as about the action adventure thrillers I've written which have Gurkhas - and kukris - in them!
A Gurkha soldier on operations in Afghanistan with a ceremonial kukri (or khukuri), known as a ‘konra’. Note the two handed grip necessary to wield this huge Gurkha knife!
The kukri (or khukuri) is ubiquitous in Britain’s Brigade of Gurkhas. The Gurkha knife has a prominent position on the capbadges of all Britain’s Gurkha units and it is carried by soldiers of the Brigade both on ceremonial duties and in the field. But the Gurkha kukri (or khukuri) is not just an historic symbol of a Gurkha knife. Although the basic design of the kukri (or khukuri) has changed little over the centuries, the knife remains a potent weapon in the hands of a Gurkha, delivering lethal effect even on today’s contemporary battlefield. The Gurkha kukri's (or khukuri's) continued utility is well illustrated in this extract from the citation for the Military Cross awarded to Lance Corporal Tuljung Gurung for his actions in Afghanistan on 22 March 2013:
‘Showing exceptional instinct and courage he picked up the grenade and threw it out of the sangar. The grenade detonated, peppering the sangar with fragmentation. Gurung was again knocked off his feet. Through the obscuration of the debris he quickly identified an insurgent climbing into the sangar. Due to the close quarters, and unable to bring his rifle to bear, Gurung instinctively drew his kukri and slashed at the insurgent. In the ensuing hand to hand combat Gurung and the insurgent fell three meters from the sangar, landing on the ground outside of the Patrol Base. Exposed to possible further insurgent firing positions, he aggressively and tenaciously continued to fight with his kukri. The two insurgents, defeated, turned and fled.’
As well as being a fearsome and effective weapon, Gurkhas use their kukris (or khukuris) as general utility tools. This photograph, taken in Afghanistan on OP HERRICK, shows a Gurkha knife being used to carve up a watermelon.
And you can find out more about the remarkable work of the Gurkha Welfare Trust at the following link:
GURKHA KUKRI (OR KHUKURI) - THE STORY OF THE FAMOUS GURKHA KNIFE
A soldier from the 9th Gurkhas demonstrates the use of the Gurkha kukri (or khukuri) to incapacitate an adversary as a group of senior officers approach. Although this photograph was taken in 1945, young Gurkha soldiers are still taught the same slashing action with their kukri (or khukuri) during recruit training - the Gurkha knife is as important now as it was then.
Although all Gurkha kukris (or khukuri) have a similar basic shape, there are a number of different variations on the kukri (or khukuri) theme, particularly in relation to the kukri blade. Historically, Gurkha kukris (or khukuris) from the west of Nepal tended to be short and ‘round-bellied’ whilst those from the eastern districts had longer, more slender blades. Gurkha kukris (or khukuris) used for ceremonial or sacrificial purposes, such as chopping the head off a water buffalo during the Hindu festival of ‘Dashera’ or ‘Dashain’, are necessarily bigger and heavier. Kothimora kukris (or khukuris), which are frequently given as gifts to esteemed people, are highly polished and often have intricate silver designs on the scabbard.
A soldier from The Royal Gurkha Rifles holds his kukri aloft as he storms a trench during an infantry exercise.
A group of Gurkhas from 3rd Gurkhas circa 1890. Note the kukris (or khukuris) being held by the two soldiers bottom right. Soldiers today carry very similar Gurkha knives!
Gurkhas from The Royal Gurkha Rifles in Afghanistan with their kukris (or khukuris).
When her brother is killed in a diving accident, journalist Amélie Lagarde asks ex-Gurkha Harry Parker to help her investigate. Together they get drawn into a desperate battle between an ambitious Prime Minister, the intelligence services and an ex-Taliban commander, now the world’s most wanted terrorist, leaving them with no choice but to gather a team of Gurkhas and take matters into their own hands. And yes, the Gurkhas have their kukris with them!
'Fast paced and action-packed from the start...well worth getting hold of.’ Soldier Magazine (the magazine of the British Army)
'Breathtaking read. Couldn't put it down! A real page turner. Had me on the edge of my seat throughout.' Amazon reader review
There are a number of different theories about the origin of the Gurkha kukri (or khukuri). One is that it is a descendent of the machaira, the curved cavalry sword of the ancient Macedonians carried by Alexander’s horseman when he invaded north west India in the Fourth Century BC. Another not necessarily contradictory theory is that the Gurkha knife originates from a form of knife used by the Mallas who came to power in Nepal in the Thirteenth Century. Arguably the most credible theory about the kukri's origins is that this unique Gurkha knife was developed in isolation by the peasants of Nepal. The kukri's size and dimensions may have been shaped by the environment as a longer weapon would have been impractical given the very steep hillsides that characterise much of Nepal.
The Royal Gurkha Rifles (RGR) was formed on 1 July 1994 when the existing Gurkha regiments amalgamated to form a single Gurkha regiment of three battalions. Although the RGR has only existed for 25 years, it carries the traditions and history of its antecedent Gurkha regiments and has already established itself as a formidable fighting force. With a Foreword by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, the book provides a visual history of this elite unit. And yes, there are lots of images of Gurkhas with their famous Gurkha knives!
'[A] fine study...Maj-Gen Lawrence, the third of the (so far) four honorary colonels, tells the story of the new regiment’s first 25 years and packs it with illustrations.' Country Life
'...this lavishly illustrated history makes engrossing reading...a very proud story expertly told.' Pennant, The Journal of the Forces Pension Society,
Soldiers from the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas performing a kukri (or khukuri) display to music. Other displays with the kukri include one in which between 10 - 20 Gurkhas demonstrate how the use of the kukri has been developed into a martial art with specific moves (such as stabbing, slashing and blocking) practised over and over again until they become second nature - see the video at the end of the page.
Modern military Gurkha kukris (or khukuri) tend to be about 30cm in length. The blades are made of steel and have a distinctive notch near the handle known as the kaura. There are numerous interesting explanations of its presence. One of these is that it is an ingenious aiming sight for when the Gurkha knife is thrown at a target. Another is that it is to stop blood running down the kukri (or khukuri) blade and onto the handle. Yet another is that it is to catch and then neutralise an enemy blade in a knife fight. Whilst the latter two explanations might contain an element of truth, the reality is that the kaura is a decorative Hindu religious and phallic symbol.
The handle of the modern military Gurkha kukri (or khukuri) is usually made of dense wood. It is secured to the blade by rivets through the hilt or by flattening the end of the hilt over the bottom of the handle. On more expensive kukris (or khukuri), the handle might be made of bone, horn, ivory or even metal. The Gurkha knife's scabbard is traditionally made of wood with a leather covering. There are two small pockets at the back of the kukri scabbard to hold a pair of small knives. One of these, the chakmak, is for sharpening the Gurkha kukri (or khukuri) and can be used with a flint to create a spark. The other, the karda, is used as a penknife for skinning animals. The tip of the scabbard is protected by a metal cap. When worn in the field, the Gurkha kukri (or khukuri) is normally covered with camouflage material and attached to the soldier’s webbing.
This short film shows Gurkha recruits undergoing basic training in the UK and includes their first lessons in the use of the kukri, the famous Gurkha knife.
If you want to find out more about the history of Britain's Gurkhas, the following link will take you to the Gurkha Museum's web page:
A painting by Jason Askew of the Sirmoor Battalion (later 2nd Gurkhas) defending Hindu Rao’s house against an assault by mutineers during the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The kukri (or khukuri) carried by today’s Gurkhas is little different to the Gurkha knife carried by the soldier in the centre of the painting over a hundred and sixty years ago! Then as now, the kukri (or khukuri) is a lethal weapon in the hands of a Gurkha.
When in the field, the Gurkha kukri’s (or khukuri's) scabbard is usually covered in camouflage material as in this photograph taken in Afghanistan on OP HERRICK.
A painting of the storming of Delhi in 1857 showing ‘the incident at Subjee Mundi’. A soldier from the Sirmoor Battalion (later the 2nd Gurkhas) is about to draw his kukri Gurkha knife to decapitate a mutineer.
A Gurkha soldier and his kukri (or khukuri). In 1948, the Prime Minister and Supreme Commander of Nepal, Maharaja Padma Shamsher Jangabahadur Rana, wrote that the kukri (or khukuri) ‘is the national as well as the religious weapon of the Gurkhas. It is incumbent on a Gurkha to carry it while awake and to place it under the pillow when retiring.’ To the serving soldier, this famous Gurkha knife remains as important today as it was then!
The ceremonial kukri (or khukuri), known as the konra, is usually about twice the size of the military Gurkha knife and has a large handle to allow the user to take a double handed grip. Traditionally, the konra will be used to sacrifice a water buffalo during the Hindu festival of Dashain (or ‘Dashera’). The soldier selected to do this is under real pressure. If he decapitates the animal with a single blow of his kukri (or khukuri), then his unit will be blessed with good luck in the year ahead; if he fails to do this, then bad luck will follow. Although this practise still takes place in Nepal, it is not permitted in the UK.
A soldier from 3rd Gurkhas carrying a ceremonial kukri (or khukuri) and about to decapitate a water buffalo in 1945 or 1946 as a sacrifice during the Hindu festival of Dashain. Severing the head with a single blow of the Gurkha knife will bring the Battalion good luck in the year ahead - anything less will bring bad luck.
A Rifleman of the 3rd Gurkhas taken in the Regimental home of Almorah circa 1907. The kukri (or khukuri) is worn on the soldier’s right hip with the handle free of obstruction, enabling the kukri (or khukuri) to be easily drawn when required.
Young Nepalese men grow up using the kukri (or khukuri) as a general utility weapon in Nepal. During their basic training in the UK, they are taught how to turn this familiarity with the Gurkha knife into a lethal capability.