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A polished tourist khukuri
|Place of origin||Nepal|
The khukuri (Nepali: खुकुरी) is a Nepalese knife with an inwardly curved edge, similar to a machete, used as both a tool and as a weapon in Nepal and neighbouring countries of South Asia. Traditionally it was, and in many cases still is, the basic utility knife of the Nepalese people. It is a characteristic weapon of the Nepalese Army, the Royal Gurkha Rifles and of all Gurkha regiments throughout the world, so much so that many English-speakers refer to the weapon as a "Gurkha blade" or "Gurkha knife". The kukri often appears in Nepalese heraldry and is used in many traditional rituals such as wedding ceremonies.
The "kukri", "khukri" and "kukkri" spellings are of Western origin, the original Nepalese form being khukuri.
While some western historians conjecture that the kukri was based on similar European weapons and brought to South Asia by Alexander the Great (most probably the Kopis, a standard weapon amongst his cavalry), other researchers give it a much longer history tracing back to the domestic sickle and the prehistoric bent stick used for hunting and later in hand-to-hand combat. Richard F. Burton ascribes this semi-convergent origin to weapons from several regions such as the Greek kopis, the Egyptian kopsh, the Iberian falcata, the Illyrian sica, the Australian tombat, as well as the kukri. In India, it has also been hypothesized that the kukri was the origin of the kopis, rather than vice-versa. Similar instruments have existed in several forms throughout South Asia and were used both as weapons and as tools, such as for sacrificial rituals. Burton (1884) writes that the British Museum housed a large kukri-like ancient Indian falchion inscribed with Pali characters. Among the oldest existing kukri are those belonging to Drabya Shah (circa 1559), housed in the National Museum of Kathmandu.
The kukri came to be known to the Western world when the East India Company came into conflict with the growing Gurkha Empire, culminating in the Gurkha War of 1814–1816. It gained literary attention in the 1897 novel Dracula by Irish author Bram Stoker. Despite the popular image of Dracula having a stake driven through his heart at the conclusion of a climactic battle between Dracula's bodyguards and the heroes, Mina's narrative describes his throat being sliced through by Jonathan Harker's kukri and his heart pierced by Quincey Morris's Bowie knife.
All Gurkha troops are issued with a kukri; in modern times members of the Brigade of Gurkhas receive training in its use. The kukri gained fame in the Gurkha War for its effectiveness. Its continued use through both World War I and World War II enhanced its reputation among both Allied troops and enemy forces. Its acclaim was demonstrated in North Africa by one unit's situation report. It reads: "Enemy losses: ten killed, ours nil. Ammunition expenditure nil."  Elsewhere during the Second World War, the kukri was purchased and used by other British, Commonwealth and US troops training in India, including the Chindits and Merrill's Marauders. The notion of the Gurkha with his kukri carried on through to the Falklands War.
On September 2, 2010, Bishnu Shrestha, a retired Indian Army Gorkha soldier, alone and armed only with a kukri, defeated 40 bandits who attacked a passenger train he was on in India. He killed three of the bandits, wounded eight more and forced the rest of the band to flee.
The kukri is designed primarily for chopping. The shape varies a great deal from being quite straight to highly curved with angled or smooth spines. There are substantial variations in dimensions and blade thickness depending on intended tasks as well as the region of origin and the smith that produced it. As a general guide the spines vary from 5–10 mm at the handle, and can taper to 2 mm by the point while the blade lengths can vary from 26–38 cm for general use.
A kukri designed for general purpose is commonly 40–45 cm (16–18 in) in overall length and weighs approximately 450–900 grams (1–2 lbs). Larger examples are impractical for everyday use and are rarely found except in collections or as ceremonial weapons. Smaller ones are of more limited utility, but very easy to carry.
Another factor that affects its weight and balance is the construction of the blade. To reduce weight while keeping strength the blade might be hollow forged, or a fuller is created. Kukris are made with several different types of fuller including: tin chira (triple fuller), dui chira (double fuller), angkhola (single fuller), or basic non-tapered spines with a large beveled edge.
Kukri blades usually have a notch (kauda, kaudi, kaura, or cho) at the base of the blade. Various reasons are given for this, both practical and ceremonial: that it makes blood and sap drop off the blade rather than running onto the handle; that it delineates the end of the blade whilst sharpening; that it is a symbol representing a cows' foot, or Shiva. The notch may also represent the teats of a cow, a reminder that the kukri should not be used to kill a cow, an animal revered and worshipped by Hindus.
The handles are most often made of hardwood or water buffalo horn, but ivory, bone, and metal handles have also been produced. The handle quite often has a flared butt that allows better retention in draw cuts and chopping. Most handles have metal bolsters and butt plates which are generally made of brass or steel.
The traditional handle attachment in Nepal is the partial tang, although the more modern versions have the stick tang which has become popular. The full tang is mainly used on some military models, but has not caught-on in Nepal itself.
The kukri typically comes in either a decorated wooden scabbard or one which is wrapped in leather. Traditionally, the scabbard also holds two smaller blades: an unsharpened chakmak to burnish the blade, and another accessory blade called a karda. Some older style scabbards include a pouch for carrying flint or dry tinder.
The Kami and Biswakarma castes are the traditional inheritors of the art of kukri-making. Modern kukri blades are often forged from leaf springs collected from recycled truck suspension units. The tang of the blade usually extends all the way through to the end of the handle; the small portion of the tang that projects through the end of the handle is hammered flat to secure the blade. Kukri blades have a hard, tempered edge and a softer spine. This enables them to maintain a sharp edge, yet tolerate impacts.
Kukri handles, usually made from hardwood or buffalo horn, are often fastened with a kind of tree sap called laha (also known as "Himalayan epoxy"). With a wood or horn handle, the tang may be heated and burned into the handle to ensure a tight fit, since only the section of handle which touches the blade is burned away. In more modern kukri, handles of cast aluminum or brass are press-fitted to the tang; as the hot metal cools it shrinks and hardens, locking onto the blade. Some kukri (such as the ones made by contractors for the modern Indian Army), have a very wide tang with handle slabs fastened on by two or more rivets, commonly called a full tang (panawal) configuration.
Traditional profiling of the blade edge is performed by a two-man team; one spins a grinding wheel forwards and backwards by means of a rope wound several times around an axle while the sharpener applies the blade. The wheel is made by hand from fine river sand bound by laha, the same adhesive used to affix the handle to the blade. Routine sharpening is traditionally accomplished by passing a chakmak over the edge in a manner similar to that used by Western chefs to steel their knives.
The kukri is effective as both a chopping and a slashing weapon. Because the blade bends towards the opponent, the user need not angle the wrist while executing a chopping motion. It can be used like a sword. Its heavy blade enables the user to inflict deep wounds and to cut through muscle and bone. It has been recorded as being able to cleave a person's head and halfway through the chest with a single blow. At the base of the blade is a notch called the cho. Symbolising a lingam, its primary purpose is to serve as a blood drip during combat. The wielder could also extend their forefinger over the cho and flick the blood at their opponent's eyes in a technique called "Vishnu finger". In India the kukri sometimes incorporates a Mughal-style hilt in the fashion of the talwar but the plainer traditional form is preferred in Nepal.
While most famed from use in the military, the kukri is most commonly used as a multipurpose tool and is a very common agricultural and household implement in Nepal. Its use has varied from building, clearing, chopping firewood, and digging to cutting meat and vegetables, skinning animals, and opening tins.
Kukris can be broadly classified into two types: Eastern and Western. The Eastern blades are usually regarded as the thinner and are often referred to as Sirupate (Siru leaf). Western blades are generally more broad. Occasionally the Western style is called Budhuna, (refers to a fish with a large head), or baspate (bamboo leaf) which refers to blades just outside the proportions of the normal Sirupate blade. Despite the classification of Eastern and Western, both styles of kukri appear to be used in all areas of Nepal.
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- Richard Francis Burton (1987). The Book Of The Sword. London, England: Dover. ISBN 0-486-25434-8.
- Stoker, Dacre and Ian Holt. Dracula the Un-Dead. Penguin group, 2009. Page 306.
- Reagan, Geoffrey. Military Anecdotes (1992) p. 180, Guiness Publishing ISBN 0-85112-519-0
- "Lone Nepali Gorkha who subdued 40 train robbers", Republica, 13 Jan 2011
- Wooldridge, Ian (20 November 1989). "Episode 3". In the Highest Tradition. Event occurs at 13 minutes 25 seconds. BBC. BBC Two. http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/p00jvf2t/. Retrieved 8 August 2013. "Here if I may describe, you see a little pattern there, which some people say that it has got some religious significance, but I doubt very much. In fact, that is just so that when you have blood on the kukri, it just sort of naturally drips there, it doesn't get onto your hand and starts clogging up and that is what it is for, that little nick there."
- "Welcome to the world of the Nepalese Kami"
- Kukr. Description and foto at InterestingSwords.com
- Kukri, comparison and explanation of use at SurvivalState.com
- Kukri, How to take care of Kukri? at Gurkha-Kukri.com
- Kukri, Reviews and testing at KukriBlades.com
- "Khukuri Details". khukuri gifts from nepal. Retrieved 10/112012.