Origin of the Kukri"
Kukri is the now accepted spelling;
“Khukuri” is the strict translation of the Nepali word. Either way the thing itself
is the renowned national weapon of Nepal and the Gurkhas.
A Nepali boy is likely to have his own kukri at the age of
five or so and necessarily becomes skilful in its use long before
his manhood. By the
time a Gurkha joins the army, the kukri has become a chopping
extension of his dominant arm.
This is important, because it is not the weight and edge of
the weapon that make it so terrible at close quarters so much as the
skilled technique of the stroke; it can claim to be almost
impossible to parry.
It is important to remember that the kukri is a tool
of all work, at home in the hills and on active service it will be
used for cutting wood, hunting and skinning, opening tins, clearing
undergrowth and any other chore.
From this it is plain there can be no truth in the belief that a
Gurkha must draw blood every time before he may return the kukri to
The oldest known Kukri appears to be one in the arsenal
museum in Kathmandu, which belonged to Raja Drabya Shah, King of
Gorkha, in 1627. It is
interesting to note that it is a broad, heavy blade. However it is certain that
the origins of the kukri go far further back. There is one tenable story
that Alexander’s horsemen carried the “Machaira”, the cavalry sword
of the ancient Macedonians, in the fourth century BC on his invasion
of north-west India.
Its relationship with the kukri is plain. A third century sculpture,
of which only a much later Greek copy exists, shows what is probably
a Scythian prisoner of war lying down his arms. The weapon looks amazingly
like a modern kukri.
In 1767 Prithwi Naraayan Shah, King of Gorkha, invaded the
Nepal valley: In September 1768 Kathmandu surrendered and Prithwi
Narayan became the first King of Nepal. That his troops defeated
much larger forces must be credited at least in part to their
unusual weapon, the kukri.
It is reasonable to suppose that this was the beginning of
the universal custom of Nepalese troops carrying the kukri, a custom
that spread in time to Gurkhas serving in the British and Indian
Armies. It was carried also by many other hill units, regular and
irregular: Assam Rifle Regiments, Burma Military Police, the Garhwal
and Kumaon Regiments.
In the Burma campaign of World War those British troops who did not
carry a machete carried a kukri, and nowadays the Singapore Police
Force also carry them.
Most hill villages in earlier days would have a Smith (or
Lohar of the Kami clan) who forged kukris for the people: now there
is a good deal of mass production, though the best are still made by
skilled craftsmen. In
World War II Gurkha recruits were issued with mass-produced
government kukris but nearly all brought back their own from their
first leave. Weight,
balance and fit are crucially important.
The blades of ordinary kukris vary much in quality. Many are made perforce from
inferior steel and cannot hold a sharp edge: Good ones are forged
from railway track and old motor vehicle springs. The best are forged from the
finest continental steel and can be of the highest quality, fluted
and damascened. The
scabbards are made of wood covered in leather with a protective
metal cap over the point. Two pockets on the back holding a blunt
steel for sharpening the blade or striking sparks from flint (the
chakmak) and a little knife (the karda) used for skinning small game
or as a penknife, some also have a little purse for the flint.
are made of wood, often walnut or pat-pate (talauma hodgsoni). They are secured to the
handle either by rivets through a two-piece hilt or by the tang
inserted through a one-piece grip and riveted over the cap. In a good example the
scabbard (dap) may be adorned with cloth-work or engraving and the
hilt made of bone, ivory, horn or metal probably decorated.
Village working kukris are much coarser affairs, often with
heavy wooden scabbards and comparatively clumsy blades.
Piuthan in the west and Bhojpur in the east are well known
cnetres of kukri manufacture: Choosing examples from east to west
and from the 18th Century onwards, we can see many styles
and several types. The
long, slender blade is characteristic of early work and of eastern
Nepal; the shorter, round-bellied weapons are common later and in
western districts: but there are exceptions to this rule.
There is no specific set of dimensions, but the standard
length of service and general use kukris is twelve or thirteen
inches. A Kothimora
kukri may be any reasonable size though many of the best are service
The most impressive are the ceremonial and sacrificial
blades. They must be
capable of cutting cleaning through the powerful neck of a water
buffalo. They tend to
be twice the length and weight of a soldier’s kukri with the hilt to
fit a two-handed grip.
One interesting curiosity is the ‘kukri-bayonet’ for the old
tower musket. There is
a drawing in Perceval London’s book “Nepal”, Volume 1 page 96, of a
Nepalese Guard of Honour (of between 1813 & 1837) at the present,
muskets complete with kukri-bayonets: But each soldier had his own
fighting kukri in his belt.
So clumsy a weapon must have been for ceremonial purposes
The notch (kaura) in the blade near the hilt arouses much
interest. Although it
may certainly act as a check to excessive blood on the hilt, and be
used to catch and neutralise an enemy blade, it is essentially a
Hindu religious and phallic symbol.
There is a strong analogy with the hand-guard of the crusader
sword, which protected the sword-hand but equally represented the
Christian cross and was commonly used as the guarantee of an oath-
the right hand being placed on the cross with such words as “by
these hilts”. Reference
will later be made to myths but it is suitable to say here that the
“Kaura” or notch is not an ingenious sight with which to aim an
about to be thrown kukri. Except in desperation, as a man might hurl
his empty rifles in a last defiance at the enemy; a kukri is never
thrown: the Gurkha prefers to keep it in his hand.
The religious significance of the kukri
must not be forgotten. In 1948 Maharaja Padma
Shamser Jangbahadur Rana, Prime Minister and Supreme Commander of
Nepal, wrote, “The Khukri 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.
As a religious weapon it is worshipped during the Dasain (the
most important Hindu festival) and other times whenever any
sacrifice is to be made.
In the Army Dasain is of the greatest importance: During it
the regiment’s arms are blessed, and goats and buffaloes are
sacrificed in the process –
not now in this country.
At home in Nepal goats dedicated to various causes are
despatched and then proved and chosen experts ceremonially sacrifice
a male buffalo in the name of the regiment. The large kukri “Konra” (in the village) is
used because the head must be cleanly severed with one blow. When that is achieved, which
is nearly always, the blessing of the gods lies on the people for
the ensuing year. If
the stroke fails, leaving even so little as an inch of the dewlap
uncut, bad luck will follow.
It is custom the custom to honour the successful headsman
with a “Pheta” (white turban) bound round his forehead, an honour
Associated Myths &
The kukri has somehow produced a fertile crop of myths and
legends in the western world; and the most impossibly wild amongst
them are the most tenaciously believed. Two already mentioned are
that a kukri once drawn in whatever circumstances must taste blood
before it is resheathed.
Also that a Gurkha, if he possibly can, will take careful aim
through the symbolic “kaura” or notch and then hurl the weapon like
a boomerang, snick off the enemy’s head and casually snatch the
kukri out of the air as it returns.
If the first of these were true no Gurkha would survive to
adulthood: He would lose pints of blood every day as he chopped
wood, sharpened a wooden peg, opened a tin of beans and slashed down
After each task he would have to shed some of his own blood. The second fails to stand
the test of a little thought.
Much as anyone would hate to be in the path of a flung kukri,
one would hate much more to oppose one in the hand of an angry
Not very different is the story (set variously in China,
Italy, Burma and the North West Frontier) of the Gurkha coming
suddenly on the enemy soldier.
Naturally he struck first – the decapitating blow. “Yah, missed!” said the
enemy. “Try shaking
your head,” came the reply.
Finally a true story told by General Sir (later Field Marshal
Viscount) W J Slim.
“Early in his command of 14th Army he encouraged
constant patrolling by all forward units.
One Gurkha patrol on return
presented themselves before their General, proudly opened a large
basket, lifted from it three gory Japanese heads, and laid them on
his table. They then
politely offered him for his dinner the freshly caught fish which
filled the rest of the basket.”
Nepal, the Gurkha, and the Kukri: The three of them are
inseparable in reputation, and the Gurkha Soldier keeps his kukri as
he keeps his honour – bright and keen.
Paul's Note: The best kukris are made in India and Nepal,
where they are typically prayed over and dedicated to false gods.
a Christian I always ask God to remove any curses placed upon my
Kukris, in Jesus Name. I further God to annul any covenant or
sacrifice or dedication to any Pagan God, concerning my kukris,
In Jesus' Name. Amen.
religiously inspired characteristics of my Kukris, are changed, as
well. The notch (kaura) in the blade near the hilt, is removed fully
or partially. The shape the handle is modified, the "butt" is
slimmed down, and the raised ring removed. The finish of the
blade is dulled, and the metal cold-blued.
am not interested in using any tool that is dedicated to false gods.