Kukri History & Heritage
Nepal Khukuri Gallery
3.THE ANGLO-GORKHA WAR.
Early to mid 19th century.
Text: Expansion and Decline.
Stockade positions of the Goorkhas at Jythuk (Jaithak) Fort,
Anglo-Gorkha War 1815.
Amar Singh Thapa, Bada Kaji.
Born 1751 – d. 1816.
Son of Umrao Bhim Singh Thapa & Uma Devi.
His father died in the 1st battle of Kirtiupr in 1759. Amar Singh joined the military at a early age and served in the conquest of Kathmandu Valley in 1768 from which he was appointed Sardar.
Took a leading part in the expansion of the Gorkha Kingdom, fighting in Bhaktapur 1769, Chaubise Kingdoms and the Eastern front in the 1770´s.
1790 - conquered Kumaon, & Garhwal as protectorate state.
1791 - 2nd Sino-Nepal War.
1799-1803 - Jailed along with many other nobles who opposed ex-King Rana Bahadur Shah.
1804 - appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Gorkhali army on the Western front.
Conquered Garhwal and continued territorial exapnsion, pushing the boundary of the Gorkhali state across the river Sutlej and into parts of Himachal prior to 1810.
1806-1809 - Siege of Kangra & Gorkha-Sikh War 1809.
1814-1815- Fought vs. the British at Malaun and Shimla area, following Gorkhali defeat retired from public life and died in 1816 at Gosainkunda (likely murdered by political opponenets).
The Gorkhali under Bada Kaji Amar Singh Thapa built and/or patronised several temples which still stands today, among the more famous are the Gangotri temple in Uttarkhand, Jayanti Devi temple in Kangra and the Renuka Devi temple in Sirmor (Nahan) among many others.
Had a close friendship with British General David Ochterlony, whom he in 1815 had to fight. Their sons underwent the ceremony for blood brothers (Mit/Miter), Ramdas Thapa and Roderick Ochterlony.
One of the most fascinating Gorkhali generals of all time!
The names “Gurkha” and “Gorkha” have their root in the Nepali word “Gorkhali” meaning a person from Gorkha (town or district). Sadly many writers have confused or not understood the differences and call the early Gorkhalis for Gurkhas at times, which is wrong. While in Nepal itself if you search for a "gurkha/gorkha" or "gorkhali" it can become somewhat confusing, as its term we more often use abroad, against a foreign concept/idea/threat, while at home we usually divide ourselves into caste groups and sub groups...
Gurkha applies after 1815, when the British East India Company raised the first regiments for service during the Anglo-Gorkha War of 1814-1816, largely of men whom had earlier served in the Gorkhali military. The Gorkhali military in Kumaon, Garhwal and Himachal included not only Gorkhalis but large number of local population, such as Kumaonis, Garhwalis, Rohillas and various muslim and hindu groups living in the area with a strong military tradition. The Gorkhalis had since the campaign to conquer Kathmandu Valley employed local ethnicities and group in the irregular forces of the military. It was a common practice of armies at this time to draw soldiers from various martial groups, which were paid for their services. Senior and junior officers were almost always Gorkhalis. Therefore when the British raised the first Gurkha regiments, it was not exclusively only Gorkhalis but largely consisted of former Gorkhali troops of various groups who had served in the Gorkhali military. General David Ochterlony´s understanding of the Gorkhali military of Bada Kaji Amar Singh Thapa gave the blue print for the later "Gurkha" units to be raised.
These regiments were not named anything “Gurkha” but simply Nusseree/ Sirmoor /Kemaoon battalions and developed into becoming the 1st /2nd and 3rd Gurkha Rifles (Goorkha Regiment) in the 1860s.
It was only after the Indian Mutiny of 1857-8 that the British-Indian army started to make the Gorkha ethnicity more seperate and differenciate between these groups.
Bal Narsingh Kunwar, Kaji.
Eldest son of Ranjit Kunwar. Born 1783- d 1841.
Middle ranking court official till 1806 in which he killed Sher Bahadur whom had murdered the regent, where by he was given title of Kaji.
Married PM Bhimsen Thapas younger brothers daughter, Ganesh Kumari.
With whom he conceived Jung Bahadur & his brothers.
Appointed Governor of Dhankuta 1828, Dadeldhura 1832 and Jumla 1835.
In 1789 the Gorkhalis were invited to Kumaon by Harsh Dev Joshi, a rival family to the royal house of Kumaon. In 1790 Sano Kaji Amar Singh Thapa (father of Bhimsen Thapa) with the Gorkhali military crossed the Mahakali river and entered with little opposition to meet Harsh Dev in Almora. Infighting among various ruling families and the nobles was a norm, the support of the Gorkhalis a deciding factor of victory, just as Harsh Dev had sought. The native/local ruling families were often kept to maintain peace as long as Gorkhali sovereignity was maintained, power was with the Gorkhali Governor (often the Sardar or Kaji) of the area and ultimately with the Gorkhali King in Kathmandu. The King of Garhwal, Pradyumna Shah approached for a peace-treaty which would make Garhwal a protectorate state of the Gorkhalis for a annual payment. The agreement was formalised but shortly thereafter in late 1790/early 1791 a large part of the Gorkhali force was withdrawn, to fight in the 2nd Sino-Nepal War, only to return in 1793-4 under the leadership of Badakaji Amar Singh Thapa. A minor force was left to maintin the Gorkhali administration.
In 1803 there was over 45 companies of Gorkhali units in Kumaon, regular and irregular, each unit with approx. 200 men, making the total to a force of around 9000. The Gokhali military in Nepal was no more then 10,000 which highlights the importance of the Western front. Due to the King of Garhwal failing to pay the annual tribute or make other concessions War was declared and the two armies fought in the end of 1803 and to the summer of 1804. The Gorkhalis annexation/occupation was a continuation of the Gorkha Kingdom expanding westwards and would cover large parts of the hills of north western India. The lands of the Barha (12) Thakurai and Athara (18) Thakurai kingdoms, were similar to the earlier Baise and Chaubise Kingdoms of western Nepal which the Gorkhalis had recently conquered. The western border crossed the Sutlej river and eventually the Gorkhalis fought the Sikhs in Kangra fort in 1809, by 1810 the border was drawn by the river Sutlej, the east being that of the Gorkhalis and the west that of the Sikhs. By 1814 and the Anglo-Gorkha War, more then 25,000 troops served in the Gorkhali military on the Western Front.
Eventually the expansion of the Gorkha Kingdom into these areas would lead to war with the British East India Company which under Major General Robert Clive in the 18th century had established British rule in large parts of India and wanted access to the hills. His contemporary Gorkhali conterpart was King Prithvi Narayan Shah whom brought Nepal into a nation through his conquests for the Gorkha Kingdom. Both died in the mid 1770´s.
Reasons for the Anglo-Gorkha (Nepal) war were several, among the main factors:
- The Gorkha Kingdom expanded quickly and vastly, expanding more then 200% within a generation, often without proper border demarkation.
- The East India Company (BEIC) wanted to annex as much as possible and the lowlands of Nepal were of special interesst. While also being asked by many of the former royal houses and nobles who had been conquered by the Gorkhalis for assitance.
- Trans Himalayan trade was profitable and the British wanted to gain the upperhand in the trade route which went through Nepal.
Following the annexation in the spring of 1814 of 22 villages in the Terai by the BEIC, the Gorkhalis attacked several border observation/custom points which was then considered a valid "reason" for War. In the fall of 1814 the first major battle took place outside Dehradun, at the fort of Khalanga Nalapani.
Balbhadra Kunwar, Sardar,
Born 1789 – d. 1823.
(aka. Bulbudder, Bal Bahadur Thapa/Singh.)
Son of Jai Krishna Kunwar (brother of Ram Krishna Kunwar).
Famous for leading the Gorkhali military at the Battle of Nalapani-Khalanga in 1814 against the British East India Company (BEIC), led by Major General Rollo Gillespie.
Joined his maternal uncle, Kaji Ranjor Thapa (son of Bada Kaji Amar Singh Thapa (maternal grand father to Balbhadra) following the battle of Nalapani to fight the BEIC again at Jaithak Fort (Nahan, Sirmor) in 1815. Held the rank of Captain during the Anglo-Gorkha War.
After the Anglo-Nepal War returned to Nepal but left again to join the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab, as Sardar (general) of the Gorkha contingent in Lahore sometime betwen 1816-1818.
From this tradition the word "Lahurey" comes and denotes Nepalese hillmen going to serve in a foreign military (for example the Gurkhas/Gorkhas).
Died fighting in Naushera, (modern Pakistan) against the Afghans in 1823.
“The bravery with which the Gorkhas fought here and routed the English is worth writing with a pen of gold. Gorkhas are unrivalled fighters" - Brig. Khanduri.
The Gorkhali invasion of Kumaon and Garhwal was both outright conquest and at invitation of local rulers, who were often busy fighting each other. Similarly the British East India Company was invited by several of the rulers to fight the Gorkhalis.
The burden of administration, i.e taxes paid by the subjects remained largey the same throughout the Gorkha Kingdom. A leading casue for the natives of Kumaon and Garhwal to rise up was the burden of the tenant farmer in lieu of a massive Gorkhali army with Jagirs to the land. Officers and soldiers presurised the simple farmers to far in order to take more then what the land could produce and what was agreed. In several areas the farmers fleed or were taken into slavery and sold. British propaganda of the Gorkhali rule after the War did not help and still fuels the ethnic debate from time to time in the NW hills of India. The Gorkhali administration too seems to have turned a blind eye to many injustices due to the personal relationship with the Regent and Courtiers in Kathmandu, which could change as the wind. Often directly violating the principles King Prithvi Narayn Shah had established of a fair and just administration, which allowed for satisfied farmers.
When the BEIC arrived many of the native/local irregular troops of the Gorkhali army fleed over to the other side and fostered the idea of Gurkhas/Gorkha recruitment, which started the following year and then included both "genuine" Gorkhali solders and irregular troops from Kumaon and Garhwal.
Before the British raised their own “Gurkha” regiments the Sikh Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab in 1809-1810 raised a contingent of Gorkhali soldiers in his military after the Gorkha-Sikh War. At one stage the Gorkhali State tried to create a unified alliance with the Sikhs and Marathas to fight the British. It never succeded and over the next 40 years both the Maratha and Sikh Kingdom was to fall to the BEIC.
These men who joined were at home in the hills known as “Lahure”, meaning “from Lahore” which is still the way to describe a Nepalese man in a foreign military force, whiter serving in the British, Indian, Singapore or Brunei Army is secondary to the word “Lahure". Even the Nepalese men who have joined the French foreign legion are called (French) Lahure.
The Anglo-Gorkha War is a fascinating time of military history and it from there that the Gurkha/Gorkha tradition is said to have started. Following the war the British Government censored almost all writing on it, as it proved to be a sore point of history and mentality, how did a bunch of hill natives triumph and fight so gallantly against the military which had subdued most of India?! No force, British or Indian had proved to great for the Gorkhalis to face. Thier weakness laid in not being able to stand against overwhelming artillery power
Bhakti Thapa, Sardar,
b. 1741 – d. 1815,
born in Marsyangdi Municipality-3, Lamjung.
A legendary commander of the Gorkhali forces on the western front during the Anglo-Gorkha War. Held the title "Jetha Budha" (senior elder).
Joined the Gorkhali forces in 1770´s after a recognised military service for the King of Lamjung.
1789 - One of the main commanders in the annexation of Jumla, whom had attacked Mustang, a subsidiary alliance of the Gorkha Kingdom.
1790/1- Appointed Sardar in conjunction with the Gorkhali military entering Kumaon area. Fought and commanded several battles in Kumaon.
1804 onward- A important commander in the annexation of Garhwal and the battles which followed.
1809 - Partook in the Gorkha-Sikh War and pushed the borders to the Sutlej river.
1814- Commanded Western Garhwal during the Anglo-Gorkha War.
1815- Famed for his bravery in Deothal by Malaon Fort where he charged british artillery and muskets with only a khukuri and sword.
Died fighting in the Anglo-Gorkha war, in Deothal outside Malaon. General David Ochterlony handed over the dead body of Sardar Bhakti Thapa after covering it with dosalla (a woollen shawl). The very next day, his body was cremated with the due Gorkhali guard of honour.
A legendary commander indeed!
Attributed to have termed the Gorkhali & Gurkha/Gorkha motto: Kayar Bhanda Marnu Ramo (Better to die then live a coward).
Before dying from a sword going through his stomach he tied up his wound and charged with his Khukuri killing several before finally falling. The sword handle was still in his abdomen when the Gorkhalis pick up his body.
The war eventually ended in a peace treaty, favourable to the British while the road to reach there was not simple and many brave battles fought by men on both sides. The first treaty was with Bada Kaji Amar Singh Thapa on the 15th of May 1815, following the battle of Malaon fort, which gave the British East India Company the right to recruit troops of the Gorkhali Army; Article 5 "All the troops in the service of Nepaul, with the exception of those granted to the personal honour of the Kajees, Ummer Sing and Runjore, will be at the liberty to enter into the service of the British Governmnet, if it is agreeable to themselves and the British Government chose to accept thier services, and those who are not employed will be maintained on a specific allowance by the British Government, till peace if concluded between the two states."
General Ochterlony also gave his personal assurances to Bada Kaji Amar Singh Thapa that the Gorkhalis who wished ot join the British would be well taken care of, under his personal command before the Bada Kaji agreed to sign. Approx. 10% of the Gorkhali military in and around Maloun joined the Nusseree Battalion in the first days, marking the very start of the "Gurkha" tradition with the blessings of their former Commander-in-Cheif. The Gorkhali force that retunred to Kathmandu was only approx 250 men, senior officers and close of kin, the rest stayed on in India, many joining the newly formed regiments instead of facing un-employment and hardship.
The 1st Nusseree Battalion was actually raised on April 15 also from the Gorkhali military but consited of majority Kumaonis and Garhwalis, which within a few months became the Kemaoon battalion (later 3rd Gurkha Rifles). General Orders allowed the use of Khukuri/Kukri as part of the standard uniform to these units.
After the 2nd phase of the Anglo-Gorkha War, the Segauli Treaty in 1816 was signed, resulting in the Gorkha Kingdom loosing the lands west of the river Mahakali and east of the Mechi river, the current borders largely being established. The War is now seen more as a start of a unique friendship more than a hostility or ill-will. Both sides being impressed with the other and fighting as gentlemen it is said.
Already in 1762 King Prithivi Narayan Shah of Gorkha raised a standing military force with men from Gorkha, the force was based on his earlier irregular troops from the 1740´s with whos families for generations had served the Shah Kings of Gorkha.
The deeds of famous commanders such as Badakaji Amar Singh Thapa, Capt. Balbhadra Kunwar and Sardar Bhakti Thapa have evolved into folk-lore and legends of past bravery of the Gorkhlis and made them into National Heros of Nepal following the end of Rana rule in the 1950´s when Nepal was searching to create a Brave history for national development. Brave forefathers and a brave history to inspire the population to rise up to the challenges of life.
Krishna Shah, Chautaria.
Mid - late18th century.
Nephew of PNS.
Served as Governor of Kuti and Kerung after 2nd Sino-Nepalese War, 1791-1792.
Related to Chautaria Hasti Dal Shah, aka. Hastidal/Hastaha Shah. Paternal uncle or cousin of PNS.
1814-16, High ranking military Officer during the Anglo-Gorkha War and fought at Almora (1815) against the British East India company.
Throughout the Gorkha kingdom Taxes placed on the peasantry, the Jagir tenant farmers was the same, new or old area. The preasure officially put on the population of east Nepal, central Nepal or Kumaon was largely the same. What differed was the size of the military stationed, the various battles and wars which required the subjects involvement. Differences of leadership and administration quality was largely in the hands of military commanders which could be replaced on yearly basis depending on who rose to power in the Court of Kathmandu,a troubled time started after the death of Prithvi Narayan Shah, for almost 40 years the Gorkha Kingdom was ruled by a minor king, his uncles, mother, step mothers fighting for the role of Regent and the rise of palace politics was very unhealthy for a Kingdom in the making.
Throughout the Anglo-Gorkha War, munitions were produced, supplies carried, taxes and rents paid, villagers did not understand the reasons of War but understood they were at war, under attack and contributed in a grand scale! Without pay the farmers manned the supply chain to the front facing hardship and danger. It was part of the taxation system of the Gorkhali State.
Buddhibal Rana, Capt.
aka. Buddaiba Rana.
early to mid 19th c.
very little is known about him, except that he served in the Anglo-Gorkha War and owned land in Dhuwskot, Dhading and survived the War.
The Nepalese elite failed to learn the most important lesson of the failure in the War and still haunts politics, the elite had stripped the farmers of even a modest gain to live. Thus the British gained the secrets of the hills and managed to bring the Gorkhalis to their knees.