AskDefine | Define Kukri

Extensive Definition

The kukri (Devanāgarī: खुकुरी) is a heavy, curved Nepalese knife used as both tool and weapon. It is also a part of the regimental weaponry and heraldry of Gurkha fighters. It is known to many people as simply the "Gurkha Blade" or "Gurkha Knife".
The name is pronounced khu-khoo-ree. Although khukuri, "khukeri" or khookree are more accurate transliterations, kukri is the most well-known spelling of the name of this blade style. In early English writings there were many and diverse spellings of the name.

Design and manufacture

The kukri is designed for chopping and in use resembles a cross between a knife and an axe. Blades are typically 3 - 10 cm wide and 30 – 38 cm long, but size varies. Larger, less practical ceremonial blades may be as long as 70 cm. Blades are deflected at an angle of 20° or more, with a thick spine and a single sharp cutting edge; this causes the end section of the blade to strike square on, greatly increasing chopping effectiveness. Khukris can be broadly classified into two types: 'siropate' are used for warfare, while 'budhuni' are used for woodwork. Siropate have sleeker and thinner blades, while the budhuni have thicker wider blades shaped more like fish.
Kukri blades are often forged from leaf springs intended for the suspension of trucks. 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. A kukri blade has a hard, tempered edge and a softer spine. This enables it to maintain a sharp edge, yet tolerate impacts. They are also balanced so that they will rest in a vertical position if supported on a fulcrum, e.g. a finger.
Traditional kukris usually have handles made from hardwood or water buffalo horn. These handles 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 kukris (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 configuration.
Traditional profiling of the blade edge is performed by a two-man team; one man spins a grind 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 the affix the handle to the blade. Routine sharpening is traditionally accomplished by passing a chakmak (smaller, harder, unsharpened blade) over the edge in a manner similar to that used by Western chefs to steel their knives.
Kukri sheaths are usually made of wood with a goatskin covering. The leatherwork is usually done by a sarki. Traditionally, the scabbard also holds two smaller tools called the karda and the chakmak. The karda is a small accessory blade used for many tasks. The chakmak is unsharpened and is used to burnish the blade. It can also be used to start a fire with flint. Attached to older style scabbards there is sometimes a pouch for carrying flint or dry tinder.
Kukris usually have a notch or a pair of adjacent notches (the "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 the Hindu goddess Kali. A kukri can also have one or more fullers, including the "aunlo bal" (finger of strength/force/energy), a relatively deep and narrow fuller visible in the modern example above, as well as one or more "chirra", which may refer either to shallow fullers in the belly of the blade or a hollow grind of the edge http://www.himalayan-imports.com/faq/Construction.html. This groove is said to symbolize the spear of the god Shiva. There are other stories about the meaning of these decorations. Very often the knifesmith will put his own maker's mark near the handle as well.

History

The kukri was used by the Gurkha forces in the Anglo-Nepal War as well as in First and Second World War. The Nepalese handle these knives from the age of five. During World War II, Gurkha recruits preferred their village smith's (kami) blade to mass-produced issue ones. The quality of the blade varies widely. They come in every size from miniatures to enormous sword-like implements. The people who make them are called Kamis (knifesmiths) and the Kamis are a member of the "untouchable" caste. Another term for the smiths who make the blades is biswakarma which translates as "worldmaker".
The Gurkhas, noteworthy as brave soldiers who have used the kukri as a fighting knife while in British service, are members of the Kshatriya caste. Invaders into India historically have remained there, and added to the social/ethnic/cultural life of the country. The Gurkhas are an East Asian-looking people, though it is a matter of debate when they migrated to the south side of the Himalayas, or just where in the North they migrated from.
It is a matter of debate where the design came into Nepal from or who promoted it first. It may be indigenous to the Indian region, but ancient Egypt, the Iberians, and the Greeks used similar designs. One weapon of Iberian origin, the Falcata, shows some similarity with the weapon, and the Greeks used forms called the Machaira and kopis. Alexander the Great's men used weapons of this type and may have spread it into India when Alexander moved into the Punjab. Also there were Greek kings in Afghanistan and India in later centuries who kept in touch with Mediterranean culture. After the time of Julius Caesar, Roman merchants, who had a huge commercial presence in India, seem to have used tools like the khukri also, and probably were promoters of it. The Romans were always buying items such as tigers, spices, precious stones, handcrafted goods and fine steel from India during antiquity, as India had a vast population and very old civilization. That said, Roman armies never saw fit to use such a design, as the khukri did not fit with their tactics; the Roman military never got far east of Azerbaijan. Instead, the classical Romans used another short sword design that the Celtic and Basque tribes had used, the gladius hispaniensis, which had a straight two-edged blade though sometimes it had a "wasp waist" that saved weight and increased cutting ability.
It is unknown if the Aryans had a similar weapon, but another Eurasian steppe people, the Turks, did. The Turkish forward-curving sword is called a yataghan. But the yataghan seems to have been developed independently as it first appeared in centuries after the Battle of Manzikert.

Usage

The kukri is considered a very effective weapon. Despite the physical resemblance to a boomerang, the kukri is not designed to be thrown. The blade's distinctive forward drop is intended to act as a weight on the end of the blade and make the kukri fall on the enemy faster and with more power. It has been erroneously stated that the knife is specifically weighted for the purpose of slitting the throat. As for attacking, the kukri is most effective as a chopping, slashing weapon - though stabbing attacks are also used. Based on the recollections of Colonel Gian Singh, (formerly 7th Indian Division), http://www.burmastar.org.uk/gian_singh.htm
A Gurkha from the 4/8 Gurkhas had demonstrated to me in India how best to use the kukri. Firstly, you get in close to your enemy and stab him in the lower body. When the kukri goes in, the enemy always doubles up. You then swiftly withdraw your kukri and take his head off. With a sharp blade that’s easy. I saw many an enemy with their heads off so it must work!
Despite usage in the military, the kukri is most commonly used as a woodcutting and general purpose tool, and is a very common agricultural and household implement in Nepal. A kukri designed for general purpose is commonly 16 to 18 inches (around 40-45 cm) in overall length and weighs one to two pounds (around 450-900 grams). Bigger examples are impractical for everyday use and are rarely found except in collections or as ceremonial instruments. Smaller ones are of more limited utility, but very easy to carry.
Although a popular urban legend states that a Gurkha "never sheaths his blade without first drawing blood", the kukri is most commonly employed as a multi-use utility tool, rather like a machete. It can be used for building, clearing, chopping firewood, digging, cutting meat and vegetables, skinning and also for opening tins.http://www.army.mod.uk/brigade_of_gurkhas/history/kukri_history.htm
The kukri also has a religious significance in Hindu religion and is blessed during the Dasain sacrificial festival.

Uses of Kukri in film and other media

Kukri in German: Kukri
Kukri in Estonian: Kukri
Kukri in Spanish: Kukri
Kukri in Italian: Kukri
Kukri in Lithuanian: Kukri
Kukri in Malay (macrolanguage): Kukri
Kukri in Dutch: Kukri
Kukri in Japanese: ククリ
Kukri in Norwegian: Kukri
Kukri in Polish: Kukri
Kukri in Russian: Кукри
Kukri in Slovenian: Kukri
Kukri in Finnish: Kukri
Kukri in Swedish: Kukri
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