Definition of the khukuri or kukri knife:
A mid-length curved knife comprising a distinctive "Cho" that is the national knife and icon of Nepal. The traditional utility knife of Nepalese. A formidable and effective weapon of the Gurkhas. An exquisite piece of craftsmanship that symbolises pride and valour which also represents the country and it’s culture. Believed to have existed 2500 years ago. Kopi is the probable source of the khukuri that was used by Greeks in the 4th Century BC. However, khukuri came into limelight only in and particularly after the Nepal War in 1814-15 after the formation of British Gurkha Army. Carried in a leather scabbard, normally having a walnut wooden grip and traditionally having two small knives, it is one of the most famous knives of the world.
1. Belly (Bhundi): Widest part/area of the blade.
2. Bevel (Patti): Slope from the main body until the sharp edge.
3. Bolster (Kanjo): Thick metal/brass round shaped plate between blade and handle made to support and reinforce the fixture.
4. Butt Cap (Chapri): Thick metal/brass plate used to secure the handle to the tang.
5. Cho/Notch (Kaudi): A distintive cut (numeric 3 like shape) in the edge functioned as a blood dropper and others.
6. Edge (Dhaar): Sharp edge of the blade.
7. Fuller (Chirra): Curvature/Hump in the blade made to absorb impact and to reduce unnecessary weight.
8. Fuller/Groove (Khol): Straight groove or deep line that runs along part of the upper spine.
9. Keeper (Hira Jornu): Spade/Diamond shaped metal/brass plate used to seal the butt cap.
10. Main body (Ang): Main surface or panel of the blade.
11. Peak (Juro): Highest point of the blade.
12. Ricasso (Ghari): Blunt area between notch and bolster.
13. Rings (Harhari): Round circles in the handle.
14. Rivet (Khil): Steel or metal bolt to fasten or secure tang to the handle.
15. Spine (Beet): Thickest blunt edge of the blade.
16. Tang (Paro): Rear piece of the blade that goes through the handle
17. Tang Tail (Puchchar): Last point of the khukuri blade.
18. Tip (Toppa): Starting point of the blade.
1. Chape (Khothi): Pointed mettalic tip of the scabbard. Used to protect the naked tip of a scabbard.
2. Frog (Faras): Belt holder especially made of thick leather (2mm to 4mm) encircling the scabbard close towards the throat.
3. Lace (Tuna): A leather cord used to sew or attach two ends of the frog. Especially used in army types (not available in this pic).
4. Loop (Golie): Round leather room/space where a belt goes through attached/fixed to the keeper with steel rivets.
5. Lower Edge (Tallo Bhag): Belly/curvature of the scabbard.
6. Main Body (Sharir): The main body or surface of the scabbard. Generally made in semi oval shape.
7. Strap/Ridge (Bhunti): Thick raw leather encirlcing the scabbard made to create a hump to secure the frog from moving or wobbling (not available in this pic).
8. Throat (Mauri): Entrance towards the interior of the scabbard for the blade.
9. Upper Edge (Mathillo Bhaag): Spine of the scabbard where holding should be done when handling a Khukuri.
The khukuri is also the peaceful all-purpose knife of the hill people of Nepal. It is a versatile working tool and therefore an indispensable possession of almost every household, especially of those belonging to the Gurung, Magar, Rai, Limbu and Tamang ethnic groups of central and eastern Nepal. A Nepali boy is likely to have his own khukuri at the tender age of five or so and necessarily becomes skillful in its usage long before his manhood. It is also likely that the boy will have painful encounters with his khukuri but his belief and bonding in the process with the khukuri will teach him how to use and respect it. Moreover, apart from the fact that the khukuri is an exceptionally effective tool that denotes a strong character, it also symbolises bravery and valour and is a Nepalese cultural icon, it also represents an exquisite piece of Nepalese craftsmanship.
The construction of khukuri is very basic and simple yet it has a distinctive style and class of its own. In Nepal, people still use traditional methods to manufacture khukuris. In early Nepal most villages would have a metal smith known as “Kamis” who forged the khukuris.
Khukuris in the earlier days were much longer than the modern ones and significantly varied in shape and size. Khukuris issued to the Gurkhas during the World Wars had markings such as the name of the manufacturer, inspection date, issue date and sometimes the name of the unit. Khukuris have changed over the years adapting to modern times.
Khukuri grips are normally made from local walnut wood called “Sattisaal” in Nepalese. They are also made from domestic water buffalo horn and some from brass or aluminum.
There are two types of tang. One is the rat tail tang that goes all the way through the handle narrowing its surface area as it finishes towards the end of the handle and its end is penned over and secured. The other is the full flat tang that also goes through the handle but the tang can be seen on the sides of the handle and steel rivets are fixed to secure the handle to the tang and a pommel plate or butt cap is also fitted at the end to enhance the total fixture. This type is known as “Panawal" handle.
Most of ancient khukuris used to have a wooden handle with rat tail tang however, surprisingly, the tail did not come all the way through the handle. The handles were curved unlike the modern ones and had steel or iron fixtures in most cases. The exact origin or who initiated the Panawal handle is not known but probably started in early 1900’s when Kamis were influenced by British knives. It is also likely that the handle demanded better treatment as the rat tail handle is not strong enough to hold the long blades when put to hard work. Today different materials are used in the khukuri for better results, however traditional styles have been retained except for a few exceptional and unique ones.
The khukuri is carried in scabbard, "Dap” in Nepalese, where normally 2 pieces of wooden frames are covered with water buffalo hide or other domesticated animal hide. It may or may not have a brass or steel protective cap depending on the type of khukuri.
The khukuri scabbard, like the blade and handle have come a long way with many changes and modifications to keep up with the ever changing times and needs. Scabbards from the early days did not have a belt frog and people used raw leather for carrying the khukuri blade. After the formation of British Gurkhas, frogs were introduced by British to carry khukuri from a waist belt and later steel and brass fixtures were used for appearance and also to protect the naked tip of the scabbard. Some khukuris have a decorative scabbard, beautifully carved using wood, horn, silver, brass and sometimes ivory.
Khukuris that are especially intended for display purpose, are given extra time and effort. It is a customary in Gurkha Army to present a retiring officer with a Kothimoda khukuri (silver case) to honour his outstanding long and loyal service to the regiment and the country.
The khukuri scabbard also has two pockets at the back that carry a blunt steel called “Chakmak” for sharpening the khukuri blade and also for striking sparks from flint and a little sharp knife called “Karda” used as a small utility knife. Very old scabbards along with Karda and Chakmak also had an extra leather pouch (Khalti) attached. The Khalti was used for carrying small survival kits or most of the time small piece of flint to create a spark with the Chakmak. However, army khukuris in world war days and most khukuris in 19th and early 20th centuries did away with the Karda and the Chakmak as well as the extra pouch. It is only after the mid 20th century that the Karda and Chakmak were re-introduced. Most present day khukuris have a Karda and a Chakmak with the Khalti being ignored.
Shapes and sizes of khukuris from ancient to modern ones have varied intensely from place to place, person to person, maker to maker. For instance khukuris made in the Eastern village of Bhojpur, have thick blades where as Sirupate, the most famous khukuri in Nepal is very thin. Similarly khukuris from Salyan are long and slender with deeper belly and Dhankuta, a village in the east makes simple standard army type blade but gives emphasis on the scabbard by making it decorative and ornate. Khukuris made during the 18th and 19th century were much longer and more curved than modern ones. Only the standard army issue were made to the same dimensions and measurements in order to bring about uniformity of equipment for the unit.
The most appealing and distinctive part of the khukuri is the notch or “Cho” cut into the blade directly in front of the grip and the bolster. The Cho or “Kaudi” in Nepalese that separates the khukuri from other knives of the world arouses much interest because of its unique shape and uses. Practically the notch works as a blood dipper to prevent blood or fluid getting on the handle. It is also for stopping the Chakmak (sharpener) from reaching the handle area when sharpening the khukuri blade. Similarly the notch also has religious significance as it signifies the Hindu fertility symbol (OM) and represents the sacred cow’s hoof. It is also believed to have been developed as a device for catching and neutralizing an enemy blade in close combat. However, myths like notch being a target device to capture an enemy’s sight within it and hurl the blade like a boomerang are not true. The khukuri is never thrown. It is not a can opener or a rest for the index finger. The first khukuri blade ever known to the modern man had the Cho and some drawings found in an Indian temple around 600AD also depict it in the blade. Almost all khukuris that originated in the past had the notch. The modern khukuri continues with this distinctive tradition.