Some of the famous knives of the world such as the Bowie Knife, the Stiletto, the Scimitar, the Roman Sword, and the Machete, at one time or the other, have played great historical roles as formidable weapons with raw power and courage during times of battle. The Khukuri, however, is legendary among all! The great stories and extraordinary accounts of bravery that this knife carries are legendary.
With its origins going back to ancient times, Khukuri is not only the national knife of Nepal but is also the symbol of the great Gurkha soldier. The awesome cutting edge of the Khukuri was first experienced by the British in India when the invading British forces had to face it in the well-documented battles since 1814 while combating the Gurkha army. Its often said, In the Gurkha soldier’s grip, this seemingly small piece of curved steel becomes an incredibly menacing weapon with which the soldier has demonstrated rare feats of bravery while facing the enemy on many battlefields.
While most famed after use in the military, Khukuri is most commonly used as a multipurpose tool, both for agricultural and household purposes. Its use has varied from building, clearing, chopping firewood, and digging to cutting meat and vegetables, skinning animals, and opening tins. Nepalese sometimes use the knife in their shamanic ritual practices also.
Origin of Khukuri (Speculations)
The fact of how the Khukuri exactly originated is a mystery. The originating place and date have also been lost in the mists of time. Some say it originated in a form of a knife first used by the Mallas who came to power in Nepal as the Kathmandu Valley Rulers in the 13th Century. But other facts say that the Khukuri’s history is several centuries old. Some experts suggest that the Khukuri was first used by Kirants, the first Rulers of Nepal around the 7th Century who ruled the nation for 1225 years.
There is an array of Khukuris on display at the country’s National Museum in Chhauni, Kathmandu. Some of them are as old as 500 years old or more. One of them claims to belong to king Drabya Shah who founded the Gorkha, the Kingdom in Western Nepal in 1627 AD.
The National Weapon
Khukuri is the national weapon of Nepal since the time immemorable. Besides being a revered or effective weapon, Khukuri is the preferred tool of security for the people residing in the hilly area of Nepal. It is a versatile working tool and therefore an indispensable possession of almost every household, especially for those belonging to the Gurungs, Magars, Rai, and Limbu ethnic groups of central and eastern Nepal. Khukuri also bears a religious significance in Nepal. During the annual Dashain festival, khukuri is ceremonially blessed before any sacrificial offerings.
Shape and Size of Khukuri
The Khukuri is primarily designed with the purpose of chopping. Its shape varies from being quite straight to highly curved with angled or smooth spines. Substantial variations can be seen in dimensions and thickness of blade depending on tasks intended as well as the region of origin and Kami (a blacksmith), the masters of the khukuri making art.
Most Khukuri feature two little knives attached at the back of the sheath held either in a built-in pocket or a leather purse is the complete set. The small sharp knife is a “Karda” that serves as a small cutting knife. The other knife is called a “Chakmak”, it is blunt on both sides and it works like a knife sharpener. This Chakmak when stroked against a limestone creates sparks to start a fire too.
Types of Khukuri
Khukuri can be broadly classified into two types; Eastern and Western. The Eastern blades are usually regarded as thinner and are often referred to as “Sirupate Khukuri”. Western blades are generally broader. Occasionally, the Western-style is called “Budhuna” (a fish with a large head) or “Baspate” (Bamboo leaf). Despite the classification, both styles of khukuri are used in all areas of Nepal.
Khukuri not only symbolizes bravery and valor but is a Nepalese cultural icon that also represents an exquisite piece of Nepalese craftsmanship and is indeed a unique memento for anyone to buy in Nepal. Hundreds of people are involved in making khukuris, mostly in hilly districts. Most of the tourists visiting Nepal take back Khukuri – a cultural symbol and asset of Nepal, as a Nepali souvenir.
- Featured photo: Men from hills carry Khukuri tucked in the vest coat. 1973. by Tod Ragsdale (Collection Photo Museum Nepal)