Kukri knife and sheath
Kukri knife and sheath

The Kukri or Khukuri is a heavy, curved Nepalese knife used as both tool and weapon. It is also a part of the regimental weaponry and heraldry of Gurkha fighters. It is known to many people as simply the "Gurkha knife". It is slightly deflected at an angle of 20° though some examples have a very steep angle. It is 3 to 10 centimetres high, length is 30 cm onwards, tapering towards the edge from the broad upper margin. It almost always has a single edge and almost never has a "false edge." It usually has a very thick spine and in many ways is a hybrid between knife and axe. They are sometimes forged from leaf springs taken from the suspension of trucks. Traditional kukris usually have handles made from hardwood, water buffalo horn, or cast brass. Sometimes cast aluminum is used in modern examples. The tang usually goes through to the end of the handle. Cast handles may be on the tang by a press fit as the hot metal shrinks as it hardens. Wood and horn handles are often fastened with "Himalayan epoxy" a kind of tree sap called laha. Some kukris (such as the rough ones made by contractors for the modern Indian Army) have a very wide tang with handle slabs fastened on by two or more rivets.

The name is pronounced khu-khoo-ree, although khukuri or khookree are more accurate transliterations. As follows; Kukri is the most well-known and standard spelling of the name of this blade style. In early English writings there were many and diverse spellings of the name. However, khukuri is the most proper spelling which incorporates the three Nepali syllables. Because the middle syllable is difficult for most English-speakers to hear; khukri and kukri were more common and well-known.

A Gurkha officer of the Gurkha Contingent, Singapore Police Force patrols around Raffles City during the 117th IOC Session. The distinctively tilted Hat Terrai Gurkha and the Kukri can be seen affixed to the back of his belt.
A Gurkha officer of the Gurkha Contingent, Singapore Police Force patrols around Raffles City during the 117th IOC Session. The distinctively tilted Hat Terrai Gurkha and the Kukri can be seen affixed to the back of his belt.

The kukri was the weapon that the Gurkha forces used in the Anglo-Nepal War as well as in First and Second World War. Nepalis handle these knives from the age of five. Most kukris are handcrafted, although many internet shops advertise high tech versions. During World War II, Gurkha recruits preferred their village smith's (kami) blade to mass-produced issue ones. The quality of the blade varies widely. They come in every size from miniatures to enormous sword-like implements. The people who make them are called Kamis (knifesmiths) and the Kamis are a member of the "untouchable" caste.

The Gurkhas, noteworthy as brave soldiers who have used the kukri as a fighting knife, while in British service, are members of the Kshatriya caste. Invaders into India historically have remained there, and added to the social/ethnic/cultural life of the country. The Ghurkas are an East Asian-looking people, though it is a matter of debate when they migrated to the south side of the Himalayas, or just where in the North they migrated from.

The kukri is a very effective weapon. Despite the physical resemblance to a boomerang, the kukri is not designed to be thrown; instead, the blade's distinctive kink is intended to translate and amplify lateral swipes into perpendicular motion. It is said that the knife is specifically weighted for the purpose of slitting the throat. The specific strike for which the kukri gains this reputation is difficult to accurately describe, but essentially involves striking near to the jugular with the blade near the handle, followed by a quick draw across the rest of the neck with the remainder of the blade. Still, it is more commonly used as a woodcutting tool than a weapon, and is a very common agricultural implement in Nepal. The forward curve of a kukri means that even a somewhat dull example can cut furiously. It is however, a very poor stabbing weapon. The most effective kukri is about 16 to 18 inches in overall length and weighs in at one to two pounds. Bigger examples are impractical for everyday use and are rarely found outside of collections or as ceremonial instruments. Smaller ones are of more limited utility, but very easy to carry.

A kukri
A kukri

Although a popular urban legend states that a Gurkha "never draws his blade without drawing blood", the kukri is most commonly employed as a multi-use utility tool, rather like a machete. It can be used for building, clearing, chopping firewood, digging, cutting meat and vegetables, skinning and also for opening tins.

The best traditional kukri has a hard tempered edge and a softer spine to enable it to keep an edge long and yet take impacts and are balanced so that they will rest in a vertical position if supported on a fulcrum, e.g. a finger.

Blades are typically 30–38 cm (12–15 inches) but size varies. Blades longer than 15 inches are generally considered impractical. Ceremonial versions can be up to 70 cm (27 inches) long. Ceremonial blades used to sacrifice water buffalo are much larger.

Kukris usually have a notch or a pair of adjacent notches at the base of the blade, the "kaura" or "cho", situated near the handle. Various reasons are given for this, both practical and ceremonial: that it can be used to catch the strike of a sword; that it makes blood and sap drop off the blade rather than running onto the handle; that it delineates the end of the blade whilst sharpening; that it is a symbol of potency; that it represents the Hindu goddess Kali. Kukri can also have one or more fullers, including the "aunlo bal" (finger of strength/force/energy), a relatively deep and narrow fuller visible in the modern example above, as well as one or more "chirra", which may refer either to shallow fullers in the belly of the blade or a hollow grind of the edge. This groove is said to symbolize the spear of the god Shiva. There are other stories about the meaning of these decorations. Very often the knifesmith will put his own maker's mark near the handle as well.

Kukri sheaths are usually made of wood with a leather covering. The leatherwork is usually done by a sarki. The scabbard also holds two smaller knives called the karda and the chakmak. The karda is a small accessory blade used for many tasks. The chakmak is used to burnish the blade and it can also be used to start a fire with flint. The flint is sometimes carried in a pouch attached to the scabbard.

The kukri also has a religious significance in Hindu religion and is blessed during the Dasain sacrificial festival.

It is a matter of debate where the design came into Nepal from or who promoted it first. It may be indigenous to the Indian region, but ancient Egypt, the Spanish Celts, and the Greeks used similar designs. The Spanish form was called a Falcata and the Greeks used forms called the Machaira and kopis. Alexander the Great's men used weapons of this type and may have spread it into India when Alexander moved into the Punjab. Also there were Greek kings in Afghanistan and India in later centuries who kept in touch with Mediterranean culture. After the time of Julius Caesar, Roman merchants, who had a huge commercial presence in India, seem to have used tools like the khukri also, and probably were promoters of it. The Romans were always buying items such as tigers, spices, precious stones, handcrafted goods and fine steel from India during antiquity, as India had a vast population and very old civilization. That said, Roman armies never saw fit to use such a design, as the khukri did not fit with their tactics; the Roman military never got far east of Azerbaijan. Instead, the classical Romans used another short sword design that the Celtic and Basque Spanish tribes had used, the "gladius hispaniensis", which had a straight two-edged blade though sometimes it had a "wasp waist" that saved weight and increased cutting ability.

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