Kukris were used as military weapons in conjunction with the kora in early Himalayan city-states and definitively from the time Nepal was unified in 1768 by Prithwi Narayan Shah (fig.1), the legendary Gurkha who overthrew the ruling kuranti chefs. (Editor´s note: It was not the Kiranti (kuranti) but the Newar Malla Kings that ruled the Kathmandu valley, which the Gorkhalis under Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered.)
The forward curved blade that evolved into the kukri has a long and credible provenance going back to ancient Egypt. Although the kukri as we know it didn’t appear till 1097 with the Mallas who were one of the old, landed gentry families from India. (Editors note: The Mallas whom ruled the Kathmandu Valley came to power later, approx.1200 AD, having taken power from the Lichavi dynasty (reigned ca. 400 -1200 AD, who in turn had taken power from the Kiranti dynasty, the ancient rulers of the KTM Valley.)) In the Arsenal Museum in Kathmandu, Nepal is an old forward curving Malla knife measuring about 15.5” elongated and with a more exaggerated curve it becomes the shape we recognize today. The earliest known kukri at the museum is one that was owned by Raja Drabya Shah, king of Gorkha in 1627.
According to a document published in 1994 by The Gurkha Museum, Prithwi Narayan Shah’s troops from Gorkha were armed with the kukri when they invaded the Kathmandu valley in 1767. This is the earliest indication of the Nepalese soldiers carrying the knife they wear today; albeit an early version.(Editors note: In the Arms & Armour collection of the National Museum of Nepal it is clearly shown that the Kings of Gorkha and thier commanders had Khukuris, while in the section of the Malla kings Khukuris do not seem to have been a principal wepaon.)
Fig. 1. King Prithvi Narayan Shah, unifier of the Kingdom Nepal, father of the Gorkha Empire. Ca. 1723-1775, reigned 1743-1775 AD.
Various military Kukri knives from the 19th century, some may date to the early 20th. In most wood was used for the handle on the main Kukri, Karda and Chakmak, even though images show many Karda and Chakmaks with deer/stag horn, this was not common. Styles vary from the broad bellied Budhume to the long slimmer Hanshee. JP Collection.
Fig. 2. A military hat of the Gorkhali army and as used by the early Nepalese Army in the mid 18th to early 20th century. Currently used only in ceremonial events. SirKukri.
Instead of being numbered early regiments adopted symbols and were given various colourful titles such as the Lions of Ashoka and the Defiant Tiger Brigade. These early military appellations perhaps inspired Ranjur Singh to name his most trusted generals to the Band of The Moon. These men were identified by a crescent moon emblazoned on their headgear (fig 2). this symbol transformed itself into the distinctive armoury marks found on the high quality 19th century kukris (fig 3).
From the middle of the 18th century the soldiers of Asia used firearms (regiments of fusillers are mentioned in various histories). In addition they had artillery battalions and what are best described as shock troops. Prior to the English conquest were not readily available, but personal weapons often included a matchlock along with the traditional kora, axe, bow and arrow, spears or tulwar (tarwar in Nepali) and the kukri.
Although some rifles from India were copied locally, it was not until the English victory in 1816 that flintlocks were successfully manufactured in significant quantities in Nepal. While there seems to be no written descriptions of early issued kukris it is known they were mass produced under state control and inevitably, some brought from the village kami.
Old Regimental Insignia / Badges of various units of the Nepalese Army (aka. Gorkhali military). These were used until the mid to late 19th Century when replaced with more "modern" insignia. SirKukri.
Fig. 3. Two Kukris mentioned by JP to be Nepalese military pieces but are more then likely made for use in the regiments which recruited Gurkhas, which was not only the Gurkha Rifles but also the Assam Rifles, Burma Military Police, Garhwal Rifles and many other units (regiments and battalions) of the Indian Army. This at times included smaller often less known units which may have been riased for a campaign or for a shorter time such as the Gurkhali Carrier Corps, various Maharajahs State Forces and battalions of the Military and Police force.
Over the 19th century the older regimental insignia was changed to flags as shown above. While since the 1950´s another change occoured as well. SirKukri.
Fig. 4. (Last of three) Three images of Nepalese military Kukri´s from the late 19th and early 20th century, last image also two of the British-Indian military Issue patterns, the MK 3 and MK 2. These seem to have eended up in Nepal after WW2 as "military aid". In early 2000´s International Military Antiques of USA along with Atlanta Cutlery made a huge purchase of the Nepalese Army of Antiques covering more then two centuries of weaponry: Kukri, swords, rifles, cannons and much more.
Images: SirKukri x 2 and last: JP Collection.
In 2003, two United States based companies, Atlanta Cutlery Corporation and International Military Antiques, finalized decades of negotiations for a huge cache of weapons that had been gathered and stored in Kathmandu for at least a century. Besides rifles (models British p-1842, p-1853, p-1864 and two models of the Martini-Henry cartridge rifles) issued to the British-Indian Armies there were five different models of armory produced kukris dating from 1870 through World War Two. (fig. 4)
(Editors note: JP helped IMA/ACC to classify the models. Further research is needed.There is more then five styles and much of the information given on thier sites has faults as research has shown over the past + 15 years.)
A Lango Pata or more commonly called Long Leaf Kukri and a Bhojpure style crescent moon marked Kukri.
Collection of Karda & Chakmak knives along with some other tools found on Kukri knives from time to time.
This incredible time capsule opened up direct provenance of previously unidentified Nepalese army issued kukris and also kukris that were made and used by the British-Indian Gurkha Regiments during world War Two. This find has also raised questions that cannot be answered due to a lack of a paper trail or supporting stored documents. Along with these rediscovered kukris, there are thousands of kardas and chakmas (fig. X) that seems to follow no specific pattern. As in so many armouries throughout the subcontinent, items like grips, scabbards and the mentioned kardas and chakmas were made by sub-contractors which explains the many variants. The same applies to the kukri blades and bolsters themselves; although these appear to be more to recognized patterns. While the evidence is thin, it seems there were at least twenty-five armouries including five armoury/magazines capable of making bayonets, cannon, koras and kukris. Some of the appellations of these armouries combining numbers and names can be found on the spines of the largest and probably the earliest kukri found in this cache, the lango pata, or long leaf. (Editors note: The spine is often stamped with the regiment the Kukri was issued too on the Kukris from the (IMA/ACC Cache of the) Nepal Arsenal purchase.)
These models beg for answers; including how the kukris were carried, how they were issued, why they were returned after use, what quality was standard and how many were made. While this researcher has seen examples at antique fairs, weapons shows and auctions there it has not been possible to positively identify these as Nepali Army issue weapons and accoutrements. In addition, these are the first “lango patas” encountered with identifying marks on the spine. Some of the models also have a single numeral, letter or symbol stamped on the grip or on the pommel.
Fig. 5. The Crescent moon stamp, often only one but at times its a double as shown in image. Early Nepalese Kukri´s from the late 18th and till mid 19th century often carry these and so does many of Indian origin. JP idea that these were armoury marks is questionable. It is a talisman based in the cultural heritage of the Gurkhas and often a sign of high quality, perhaps a Officers mark at times. IKRHS / KONDG / Heritage Knives.
A broad bellied "budhume" and a long handle, slim blade "hanshee" Kukri from JP´s collection. 19th century.
This cache is additional evidence that many of the early manufacture kukris from the designated Royal Armouries are of very high quality and have the heavily chiseled grips with koftgari that were meant for officers. Even though these kukris are high grade, they were not matched tp elaborate scabbards as would be expected. The crescent marks have similarities to early armourer’s marks from Italy, Northern Africa and the mid-east, but in Nepal there are subtle design differences that indicated which armoury was the manufacturer (fig. 5). this remains speculation, but it is indeed odd that this mark used in far off lands, was not used in India where the evolving kukri went through its own process. Sadly, thee is no way to match up the crescent designs with the magazines or armouries themselves so the marks remain another mystery.
(Editors note, little evidence remains of a Royal Armoury but it is known that several palaces had armouries producing a vareity of weapons.)
Fig. 6. Left: Gurkha soldiers in the mid 19th century with Kukri knives. Note the long handle and frog! JP collection.
Above: Gurkhas, from recruit to soldier, late 19th century. The recruit carries his Kukri in a traditional way in the fornt and the soldier on a frog on his side-back. IKRHS.
A Kukri marked with regimental insignia of the 3rd Gurkha Rifles.
Early kukris were stuck directly into the owner’s long sash and held directly in front of the body. Different types of frogs did not come into common military use until the 1850s and were probably adapted after seeing the hangers used with English bayonets and swords.
This era may also be the first case of standards for kukri and frog, as pictures from the earliest days of photography shows groups of Gurkha soldiers in regulations uniform carrying kukris with what must have been specified kit. There is the picture of the Gurkha museum taken in 1857 of the Nusseree Battalion (later the 1st Gurkha Rifles) that clearly shows not only the uniform and muskets, but also a type of universal frog (fig. X). This type of frog from the mid Nineteenth Century could be adapted to almost any kukri and is a strong case for recruits bringing their own knives to their duties own weapons (fig. 6) the kukri would stay secure in thus type frog. To date, no surviving Uniform Regulations have been found confirming thus.
There is also the theory that individual regiments provided their own specialized kit and kukris. Examples of pre-1900 knives and few remnants of frogs show a distinct similarity to each other. One of the more unique military kukris has a very individual style and design that includes the scabbards, frog and carrying straps. The piece is also marked with an Afghani armourer’s stamp (fig. 7) and was carried under the left arm with its straps attached at various points to the crossbelts. The early Gurkha regiments did have individual styles of where their kukris were positioned. From this scant evidence, speculation is these knives were made for the 7th Gurkhas around the 2nd Afghan war (1878-1880) in khandahar. (Editors note: The 7th Gurkha Rifles were raised in 1902 and must be another Gurkha Regiment if even made for a Gurkha unit.)
To the left, the Sirmoor Nahan Kukri from 1890 and the Afghani Kukri from the 1880s-90s to the left. JP collection.
The Afghani Kukri and relating material such as a Pesh Kabz, Afghani/Khyber Sword, Tulwar, Gurkha badges and more as prepared by JP for his Kukri Calender.
Fig. 7. The stamp on the Afghani Kukri pictured above has been said to beof the Masher-e-sherif Arsenal.
Gurkha soldiers with Kukri and Bayonet, late WW1, ca. 1918 in Mesopotamia.
The Gurkha slouch hat which has two layers seems to have been introduced in the 1920s.
A very rare slim style Afghani Kukri with unknown stamp. JP collection.
Left: Four various Kukri Knives from ca. 1830 - 1960´s, showing various styles popular in thier own era.
The design has changed based on military rules and regulations, the soldiers preference, the Ordnance board and the nature of War and battleand not to forget the makers skills.
Right: Kukri knives from WW1 and WW2;
D - the Jodhpur Kukri.
E - Horn handle MK 3.
F- Horn handle MK2.
Both images: JP Collection.
WW1 Kukri knives from National Army Museum (NAM), United Kingdom.
The Mark 1 (MK 1) from World War 1 and
The Mark 2 (MK 2) from World War 1.
Kathmandu Valley from Patan/Lalitpur ca. 1850-1863 by Dr. Oldfield, resident surgeon at the British Residency (earlier form of Embassy).
Forward Curved and Angled blades
from Philip Rawsons book.
Depending on the Kukri it may be forward curved or forward angled.
Rawsons book is a excellent source of information!
Copyright © 2001-2020 John Powell & Heritage Knives, by Kila Tool Works (P) Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the web publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the web publisher.
Karma is a bitch!