Even the spelling of the name of this blade has been disputed or butchered since someone first tried to describe this knife: khookree, kookerie, khukri, kukery or even Cookerie. What we see is an Anglicized versions of a word as first heard by English ears back in the early 18th century (editors note: late 18th to early 19th century; Capt.Kinlochs expedition faced the Gorkhalis (gurkhas) in Aug 1767and would have faced the Khukuri in battle). The spoken word is actually 3 syllables: kook-er-ee (editor´s note: 2 syllables: Khu-kuri) and has finally come down to today's accepted spelling of kukri or khukuri.
The kukri has been the weapon of choice for the Gurkhas of Nepal since at least the 1600s, and used for everything from a tool for building, digging a furrow or cutting up meat and vegetables, as well as the unique and effective fighting knife that has made its reputation. The actual origins are lost to time, but it is pretty certain that it is of Indian origin and before that a similar blade was carried by the early Egyptians called a kopesh. The Greeks copied that design and called it a kopis and then the Macedonians continued using the unique forward-curved blade shape, referring to it as a machiara or, later, as the Roman falcatta (fig. 1).
Scan of JP´s rough draft for a book on the Kukri, which this page is based on. His book remains uncompleted.
It could have found its way to India with Alexander the Great or via the extensive trade routes from the Arabian peninsula into the sub-continent. The first visual representation of a kukri occurs in India in a temple drawing from around 600 AD and
the earliest known Nepalese style kukri is in the Arsenal Museum in Kathmandu and belonged to Raja Drabya Shah who was King of Gorkha in 1627 (editors note: images and further info given below).This particular kukri has a large, deep-bellied blade, carved wooden grip and a step at the ricasso rather than the more common cho (editors note: the notch in the blade, 0,5-2 cm above the grip, more commonly refered to as a “kaudi,” while JP mentions "kauri" as a alternative word).
Left: Weapons of King Dravya Shah (ca. 1559-1590 AD) of Gorkha at the National Museum of Nepal (formerly the Arsenal Museum). The date 1627 (Bikram Sambat) would correspond to 1559-1560 AD.
Right: Close up of the Kukri(s).
Image: Heritage Knives
Weapons of King Prithivi Narayan Shah (1723-1775 AD) (left) and a Painting of the him (right) at the National Museum of Nepal. Image: Heritage Knives.
Fig. 3. A man wearing the Kukri in his traditional "patuka" (sash).
Fig. 2. Kora swords,
Prior to the use of firearms in the early 18th century Gurkha warriors were armed with the kora (also referred to in old texts as a konra or khura) (fig. 2). This is a short sword with a blade of varying length and width and sharpened on the inside edge. The blade does not have a point, but usually ends in two shallow curves. It comes in a few variations depending on its origin as it was also manufactured in Tibet, Bhutan and India.Many anthropologists and some historians believe this to be the true native weapon of Nepal since it wasn't influenced by India or other surrounding ethnographic groups as was the tulwar (tarwar in Nepali) and the katar which were prevalent in the Nepalese weapons inventory. It comes in a variety of scabbards and grip treatments and was worn across the back, or on the left side with the sling draped across the chest or over the left shoulder. The kukri was used as a backup weapon and was stuck in the owners sash (patuka) directly in front of his body (fig. 3). Today the kora is only used as a ceremonial weapon for execution of bullocks at the festival of Dasain (referred to as Dashera in India and also by the original British Regiments). There is also a kukri with a length of up to 30” for this purpose and in ancient times a weapon known as a Ram Dao was also used.
In early Nepal most villages would have a metal smith (or lohar of the kami caste) who forged kukris, koras and any other metal implements for the local populace. The English military incursions into Nepal in the mid 18th century and the later diplomatic missions brought the kamis ideal steel to re-forge as blades: discarded carriage springs (editors note: there was no roads suitable for carriages till the 1950s outside the Kathmandu valley). This practice continues to this day throughout India and Nepal using railway car springs and sections of track, as well as from truck leaf-springs. The early blades can be made from the poorest locally-made steel up to the most sophisticated "watered" steel, but will vary widely depending for whom the knife was being made, with the best quality steel coming from Tibet or India.
Fig. 4. Late 19th century Afghani Kukri knife with arsenal marks.
Kukris were being made in India, Assam and one is known to have been ordered by the Prime Minister of Nepal from Italy in the late 19th c. There are some of the ultra rare varieties that were made in London and one regiment produced a very unique and large kukri during the third Afghani War in 1878 replete with the local armourer's mark (fig. 4). As with all kukris, variations abound and it is very difficult to speak of absolutes when referring to these knives.
Nepalese kukris after 1800 will always have a notch or kauri, commonly referred to as a cho, cut into the blade directly in front of the grip and bolster. The kauri is greatly disputed as to its necessity: Is it a practical design to catch and neutralize an enemy´s blade or a Hindu religious symbol representing male or female organs, or does it represent the sacred cow's hoof? Many Indian and very early Nepalese versions will not have this notch nor will some later military kukris. Kamis would display their skill by forming this small part of the blade into designs and even fleur de lys or various designs (fig. 5).
Fig. 5. Various designs of the Kauri/Cho.
Fig. 6. The Karda and Chakmak.
The very fancy scabbards with extensive silver or gold work are called kothimoras. There will also be two small knives or tools called a karda and a chakmak (fig. 6) attached to small scabbards directly behind the scabbard's throat: the former used as a small utility knife and the later used to hone the blade or strike a small piece of flint that was carried in a pouch (khalti or goji) that was attached to these small scabbards.
Most military knives of mass production from WW I and WW II will not have these knives or pouch, but the kukris now issued have returned to having the small knives with an eye towards tradition.
The scabbards (dap) are 2 piece wooden frames covered with the leather of goat, water buffalo or elephant and may have a brass or metal chape though early pieces will have no point protection. In many cases the leather is tooled, dyed black or dark brown and military pieces can be found with a web, cloth or canvas cover.
Various Kothimora Kukri knives.
Blades are rarely decorated as they are made for toughness and hard work. They are found with one or two fullers running along the spine or with a simple floral engraving in the same area that can be referred to as the pwankh (editors note: feather(s)) or the rato karang (editors note: red rib). Some of the better blades will be hollow ground in one (ek), two (dui) and sometimes three (tin) fullers (fig. 7).
Fig. 7 (below left) with additional image of the Kukri fullers.
Left: Plain, One (ek/ang khola), Two (dui) and Three (tin) fullers (chirra). Right: Top: Dui chirra, Ang Khola (ek chirra), Plain.
Note, the edge bevel is obviously not counted as a seperate fuller.
Older Nepalese blades may have one or more half moon crescents on them indicating armoury manufacture and Nepalese Army issue. There may also be symbols of the sun (surya), the moon (chandra), one of their many deities, or regimental symbols (fig. 8). Then again the crescent symbol was also added by many individual kamis to give their blades a bit more cache.
Fig. 8. Symbol of Lion and Sun as found on some Kukri knives.
(editors note: rather likely belonging to Rana officers more then a battalion.)
The grips were usually of the local walnut (pat-pate) wood, chandan or sisnal and were fitted as one piece with a tapered tang either fitted in part way or all the way to the pommel and peened over on a metal pommel plate. This plate may also have an additional keeper in the shape of a diamond (hira jornu (editors note: diamond keeper/together/united)) which is a traditional Nepalese detail. Both these plates and the bolsters are found in steel, if the kukri was made before 1910, and brass or German silver thereafter. Except for the chape, military pieces didn't start using brass furniture on the knife itself until post WWI. To help secure these one piece grips a mixture of pitch, honey and tree or plant saps is heated and poured into the carved out grip prior to sliding in the tang. This material also helps hold the bolster and the pommel plate and is known as laha and is as strong as today's epoxies. The other style of attachment is scales of wood, bone, and horn or ivory that are riveted to a wider tang and known as pana butta.
Grips vary (fig. 9) from the materials mentioned to highly engraved or repousseed silver or gold sheets over a wood base and after 1900 solid white metal or aluminum was used. Kukris have been found with both mammal and marine ivory, other exotic woods than previously mentioned, plus giraffe (editors note: highly unlikely as not native to south asia) and rhinoceros horn. Today's issued kukri has a handle made of cured water buffalo horn and is usually in one piece with a brass pommel cap and bolster.
In depth description and study of early kukris, military kukris, kardas and chakmaks and grips are covered in later chapters and illustrated there in more detail.
Black and white photocopy of the images refered to in text.
Fig. 9. Collection of various Kukri grips/handles.
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