Khukuri (खुकुरी in Nepali), is a type of traditional machete which is used as a weapon and also a daily use tool, mostly in Nepal and India. The Khukuri also referred to as “Kukri” or “Gurkha Blade,” is a type of recurved knife widely used in Nepal and some parts of India. It is a multi-purpose tool used as a weapon and a common tool for cutting in various parts of South Asia, especially Nepal.
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The Khukuri is the national weapon of Nepal and a weapon used by the Nepali Army. No Gurkha ever steps into the battle without a Khukuri. So, it has an excellent value, and the people of Nepal greatly respect the possession of a Khukuri.
Khukuri is used by the Royal Gurkha Rifles of the British Army, the Garhwal Rifles of Gorkha regiments of the Indian Army, the Assam Rifles, the Kumaon regiments, and every Gurkha regiments that exist in the world. Khukuri is often used in many traditional events in Nepal as well as Hindu rites like wedding ceremonies, where the Groom holds a Khukuri on his waist.
Khukuri is mainly designed for chopping, and its shape also makes a great effort to create a fine cut with a curved edge. The Khukuri design may vary according to the place of origin, the task for which it is made, and the craftsmen who make it.
In general, the Khukuri spine may vary from 5-10 mm at the handle with a 2 mm taper by the point. The length of a general use blade can range from 26-38 cm. A traditional Khukuri used for general use can have a 40-45 cm length with a weight of approximately 450 to 900 g.
The Khukuri’s weight may also differ due to the construction of the blade. The Khukuri’s strength should not be altered, so to keep the power and reduce weight, the blade can be hollowed, or a fuller is created. The blade usually has a notch at the base, which has various practical and religious meanings.
The Khukuri handles are usually made from hardwood or water buffalo horn, but ivory, bone, and metal handles are also becoming popular. The handle often has flared butt, which allows better control in drawing and chopping.
The founding of the then Kingdom of Nepal relies on the History of Khukuri. When the kingdom of Nepal was founded in the 16th century, Khukuri was the primary weapon of the Nepali soldiers (Sainik).
The history of Khukuri backs to about 2500 years ago during the time of Alexander the Great and his invasion of the Indian subcontinent. However, there is still a debate on if Alexander found the weapon on the battlefield and adopted it for the war or brought the Khukuri with him when invading the subcontinent.
Either opinion can be valid because the Macedonian version of the sword used by Alexander’s soldiers, known as Kopi, was shorter than the original swords and about the size of a Khukuri. However, the real fact is unknown and probably lost to history.
The present design of the famous Khukuri was crafted in Nepal’s native hills, around the 7th century BC, some 2500 years ago. The Japanese Katana, which is the sword used by Japan’s fabled Samurai warriors, was also curved. History dates these swords to some 900 years back, only when the art of crafting the Nepali Khukuri was already thousand years old.
The Khukuri is the only ancient battle weapon that is still used on the battlefield at present. It gained popularity for its effectiveness against the British army who battled in the Anglo-Nepal war. Due to this war, the British-Gurkha relationship was initiated as both sides got mutual respect, and the relationship still continues to this day. During World War I and World War II, the enemies feared the Gurkha army and the Khukuri for their utility and effectiveness.
No Gurkha would ever step on the battlefield without his Khukuri, as a Gurkha and his Khukri is ever inseparable. It was issued formally as official military gear under the British leadership in both battle and parade.
Making of Khukuri
A Khukuri includes three significant parts, Blade, Handle, and Sheath. The assembly of these three completes a Khukuri. The Khukuri has always been made using high carbon steel, previously called “Himalayan Steel,” extracted from iron ore of the hills, then the “Leak Steel”, which was the railway track steel, and now “Leaf Spring”, the suspension steel in vehicles.
Nepal is a country where thousands of tribes live, among which a tribe called Bishwakarma Kami is famous for making Khukuri. The making of Khukuri is one of the oldest works of the Kamis and has been the primary source of income for a long time. Similarly, the Saarki tribe is expertise in making the sheath of the Khukuri. These two tribes are responsible for completing a single Khukuri.
The Kukris are mostly handcrafted and designed. Making a single Khukuri requires four men working for the whole day and sometimes more. The raw materials like steel, brass, buffalo horns, and hides are necessary for making the Khukuri is selected among the best ones. The makers choose the materials on their own from their villages and local markets.
Initially, high-grade steel, usually taken from railway track or vehicle suspension, is taken as a small slice. It is repeatedly heated and hammered on an anvil, usually a sled hammer in the ground alongside the charcoal-fueled forge.
After a shape is generated, the blade is annealed and tempered with water poured into it. The Tempering of the blade gives it extra hardness and strength. For this, the craftsmen pour cold water onto the edge of the heated blade. This process requires great skill as water should only be spilled on the heated edge and not the whole body. If the entire body gets watered, it may cause cracks in the blade or even break.
The Khukuri handle is carved of Rhododendron wood, shaped carefully for getting a good grip even if it gets sticky. The semi-finished blade is inserted in the handle (or Hilt) through its spike-like tang into the handle, rather than a bar-like shank, and revised. The bronze cap that helps provide strength to the handle is hand-made and individually crafted and put in each Khukuri.
The sharpening of the Khukuri is done by using the traditional machine known as “Shan.” The Khukuri’s edge is rubbed against the wheel on both sides, making the surface slim and sharp. This process is done until the Khukuri gets razor sharp.
The final stage of the making of a Khukuri is Buffing and Shining, where the blade and handle of the Khukuri are carefully shined and smoothened using the shining machine. The final product is carefully inspected before exporting them and issuing them to the person whose life depends on it.
The Sharpening, tempering of the blade’s edge, and even the sheath’s shaping are all handcrafted, with the machine only being used to lathe for shining the final Khukuri. A Khukuri is only said to be fair and useful if it slices another Khukuri’s spine to some extent of depth.
Different Types of Khukuri
Basically, the Khukuri is classified into two categories: Eastern and Western Khukuri. The Eastern Kukris are originated in the towns and villages of the Eastern part of Nepal, and the Western Kukris resembles the towns and villages of Western Nepal.
Sirupate Khukuri is one of the most popular Eastern Khukuri used in Nepal, where Sirupate means thin-leaf-like, and is more slender, usually with a slightly thinner spine to boot. Other widely popular Khukuri of Eastern Nepal are Angkhola Khukuri, Chitlange Khukuri, Chiruwa Khukuri, Dhankute Khukuri, Ganjawala Kukri, Panawala Khukuri, Bhojpure Khukuri, Chainpure Khukuri.
Western Kukris are occasionally called Budhuna, a fish with a large head, or Baspate, which means Bamboo-leaf-like. The Western Khukuris are broader compared to the Eastern ones. However, the classifications are only made to know about their origins, but both types of Khukuri are equally used all over Nepal.
There is another type of Khukuri named after the Gorkhali General Amar Singh Thapa and is known as Amar Singh Thapa Khukuri. This Khukuri depicts the real Khukuri used by the General during the war. However, the real Khukuri used by him is safely kept at the National Museum of Nepal and is a bit curvy than other Nepali Khukuri.
Uses of a Khukuri
The Khukuri gained popularity during the first Gurkha war and continued to be used even during World War I and World War II. It is widely used as a weapon due to the curved shape, which creates a wedge effect, causing the blade to cut deeper and effectively. Due to the weapon’s weight and design, the user can inflict deep wounds and penetrate big bones. It is used for slaughtering animals for food, cutting meat and vegetables, skinning animals, chopping wood, digging, and various general and household works.