Knife (Kukri) with Sheath MET 36.25.831a b 001 Apr2017.jpg
A kukri with sheath
TypeBladed melee weapon, utility tool
Place of originGorkha Kingdom
Service history
In servicec. 7th century – present[1]
Used byGurkhas and Kiratis (natively)
Mass450–900 g (1–2 lb)
Length40–45 cm (16–18 in)

The kukri (English: /ˈkʊkri/)[2] or khukuri (Nepali: खुकुरी, pronounced [kʰukuri]) is a type of short sword with a distinct recurve in its blade originated in the Indian subcontinent. It serves multiple purposes as a melee weapon and also as a regular cutting tool throughout most of South Asia. The kukri, khukri, and kukkri spellings are of Indian English origin,[3][better source needed] with the original Nepalese English spelling being khukuri.[citation needed]

The khukuri is a traditional Gorkha knife with a distinct curved blade that has been used for centuries by the Nepalese people and Indian Gorkhas. It is both a tool and a weapon, and is considered a symbol of Nepalese national identity as well as a symbol used by Indian Gorkhas.

Originating from the Indian subcontinent, the kukri is the national weapon of Nepal, traditionally serving the role of a basic utility knife for the Nepali-speaking Gurkhas,[4] and consequently is a characteristic weapon of the Nepali Army.[4]

There have been, and still are many myths surrounding the kukri since its earliest recorded use in the 7th century—most notably that a traditional custom revolves around the blade in which it must draw blood, owing to its sole purpose as a fighting weapon, before being sheathed.

In addition to its use in combat, the khukuri has also been used for a variety of other purposes throughout history. It was used by farmers and laborers for cutting crops and clearing brush, and by hunters for skinning and cleaning game. It was also used as a tool for cooking, woodworking, and even as a ceremonial object in some Nepalese religious traditions.


Colonel Gambhir Singh Rayamajhi Kshetri, a Gorkhali Commander armed with a Khukuri in his left hand and Talwar on his right
Colonel Gambhir Singh Rayamajhi Kshetri, a Gorkhali Commander armed with a Khukuri in his left hand and Talwar on his right

Researchers trace the origins of the blade back to the domestic sickle and the prehistoric bent stick used for hunting and later in hand-to-hand combat.[5] Similar implements have existed in several forms throughout the Indian subcontinent and were used both as weapons and as tools, such as for sacrificial rituals.[citation needed] It might have derived from the ancient Indian saber called nistrimsa (निस्त्रिंश), itself possibly based on the Greek kopis brought by Alexander the Great's forces to India in the 4th century BC.[6] Burton (1884) writes that the British Museum housed a large kukri-like falchion inscribed with writing in Pali.[7] Among the oldest existing kukri are those belonging to Drabya Shah (c. 1559), housed in the National Museum of Nepal in Kathmandu.

The kukri came to be known to the Western world when the East India Company came into conflict with the growing Gorkha Kingdom, culminating in the Gurkha War of 1814–1816.[citation needed] 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.[8]

All Gurkha troops are issued with two kukris, a Service No.1 (ceremonial) and a Service No.2 (exercise); in modern times members of the Brigade of Gurkhas receive training in its use. The weapon gained fame in the Gurkha War and 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, our nil. Ammunition expenditure nil."[9]


A Rai-Kirati priest man wearing Kukri in his waist
A Rai-Kirati priest man wearing Kukri in his waist

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 (31638 in) at the handle, and can taper to 2 mm (116 in) by the point while the blade lengths can vary from 26–38 cm (10–15 in) for general use.[citation needed]

A kukri designed for general purpose is commonly 40–45 cm (16–18 in) in overall length and weighs approximately 450–900 g (1–2 lb). 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), Ang Khola (single fuller), or basic non-tapered spines with a large bevelled edge.

Gurkhas at kit inspection showing kukri in France during World War I
Gurkhas at kit inspection showing kukri in France during World War I

Kukri blades usually have a notch (karda, kauda, Gaudi, 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 and thereby prevent the handle from becoming slippery;[10] that it delineates the end of the blade whilst sharpening; that it is a symbol representing a cows' foot, or Shiva; that it can catch another blade or kukri in combat. 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.[citation needed] The notch may also be used as a catch, to hold tight against a belt, or to bite onto twine to be suspended.[original research?]

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.[citation needed] The full tang is mainly used on some military models but has not become widespread in Nepal itself.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]


A Gurkha officer of the Gurkha Contingent, Singapore Police Force patrols around Raffles City during the 117th IOC Session. He wears the distinctively tilted Hat Terrai Gurkha; the kukri can be seen attached to the back of his belt
A Gurkha officer of the Gurkha Contingent, Singapore Police Force patrols around Raffles City during the 117th IOC Session. He wears the distinctively tilted Hat Terrai Gurkha; the kukri can be seen attached to the back of his belt

The Biswakarma Kami (caste) are the traditional inheritors of the art of kukri-making.[11] Modern kukri blades are often forged from spring steel, sometimes collected from recycled truck suspension units.[11] The tang of the blade usually extends all the way through to the end of the handle;[citation needed] the small portion of the tang that projects through the end of the handle are 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 aluminium or brass are press-fitted to the tang; as the hot metal cools it shrinks, 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 chefs to steel their knives.

Kukri scabbards are usually made of wood or metal with an animal skin or metal or wood covering. The leather work is often done by a Sarki.


The kukri is effective as a chopping weapon, due to its weight, and slashing weapon, because the curved shape creates a "wedge" effect which causes the blade to cut effectively and deeper.

While most famed from use in the military, the kukri is the most commonly used multipurpose tool in the fields and homes in Nepal. Its use has varied from building, clearing, chopping firewood, digging, slaughtering animals for food, cutting meat and vegetables, skinning animals, and opening cans. Its use as a general farm and household tool disproves the often stated "taboo" that the weapon cannot be sheathed "until it has drawn blood".[12]

The kukri is versatile. It can function as a smaller knife by using the narrower part of the blade, closest to the handle. The heavier and wider end of the blade, towards the tip, functions as an axe or a small shovel.


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A kukri (top) with the traditional karda (middle) and chakmak (bottom). The karda and chakmak are used as a utility knife and a sharpening tool respectively
A kukri (top) with the traditional karda (middle) and chakmak (bottom). The karda and chakmak are used as a utility knife and a sharpening tool respectively
Kukri knife and scabbard on display at the Imperial War Museum North
Kukri knife and scabbard on display at the Imperial War Museum North
Kukri using in traditional ritualistic performance by Rai people
Kukri using in traditional ritualistic performance by Rai people


Kukri in traditional religious worship of Rai people
Kukri in traditional religious worship of Rai people

Kukris can be broadly classified into two types: Eastern and Western. The Eastern blades are originated and named according to the towns and villages of Eastern Nepal.[citation needed] The Eastern Khukuris are Angkhola Khukuri, Bhojpure Khukuri, Chainpure Khukuri, Cheetlange (Chitlange) Khukuri, Chirwa (Chiruwa) Khukuri, Dhankute Khukuri, Ganjawla Khukuri, Panawala Khukuri, Sirupate Khukuri translates as Siru grass leaf like.[13] Khukuris made in locations like Chainpur, Bhojpur, and Dhankuta in Eastern Nepal are excellent and ornate knives.[14] Western blades are generally broader. Occasionally the Western style is called Budhuna, (referring 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.

There is Khukuri named after Gorkhali General Amar Singh Thapa called Amar Singh Thapa Khukuri. This Khukuri is modelled on the real Khukuri used by the Gorkhali General.[15] The real Khukuri used by Amar Singh Thapa is archived at National Museum of Nepal and is more curvy in nature than other traditions.[16]

Military adoption

The kukri is in standard service with various regiments and units within the Indian Army, such as the Assam Rifles, the Kumaon Regiment, the Garhwal Rifles and the various Gorkha regiments. Outside of its native region of South Asia, the kukri also is in service with the Brigade of Gurkhas in the British Army and Gurkha Contingent of the Singapore Police Force.[17][18] The kukri is the staple weapon of all Gurkha military regiments and units throughout the world, so much so that some English-speakers refer to the weapon as a "Gurkha blade" or "Gurkha knife".[19] The kukri often appears in Nepalese heraldry and is used in many traditional, Hindu-centric rites such as wedding ceremonies.[20]

See also


  1. ^ "Kukri History: Khukuri House". www.khukuriblades.com. 2006. Archived from the original on 29 May 2020. Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  2. ^ "Kukri | Meaning of Kukri by Lexico". Lexico Dictionaries | English. Archived from the original on 21 June 2020. Retrieved 1 June 2020.
  3. ^ Illustrated Oxford Dictionary. Great Britain: Dorling Kindersley. 1998. ISBN 140532029-X.
  4. ^ a b Latter, Mick (26 March 2013). "The Kukri". Welcome to the Gurkha Brigade Association. Retrieved 29 January 2022.
  5. ^ Richard Francis Burton (1987). The Book of the Sword. London: Dover. ISBN 0-486-25434-8.
  6. ^ Duncan Head (1982). Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars, 359 BC to 146 BC: Organisation, Tactics, Dress and Weapons. University of Michigan. p. 136. ISBN 9780904417265.
  7. ^ "The Book of the Sword, by Richard F. Burton—A Project Gutenberg eBook". www.gutenberg.org. Retrieved 25 August 2020.
  8. ^ Stoker, Dacre and Ian Holt (2009). Dracula the Un-Dead. Penguin Group. p. 306.
  9. ^ Reagan, Geoffrey (1992). Military Anecdotes. Guinness Publishing. ISBN 0-85112-519-0. p. 180.
  10. ^ Wooldridge, Ian (20 November 1989). "Episode 3". In the Highest Tradition. Event occurs at 13 minutes 25 seconds. BBC. BBC Two. 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.
  11. ^ a b "Kamis, Khukuri makers of Nepal". himalayan-imports.com. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  12. ^ Latter, Mick (26 March 2013). "The Kukri". Welcome to the Gurkha Brigade Association. Retrieved 25 March 2020.
  13. ^ "Kukri Mart - Handmade Genuine Gurkhas Knives and original Nepalese Khukuris".
  14. ^ Visit Nepal '98: By The Official Travel Manual of Visit Nepal '98 VNY'98 Secretariat, 1998
  15. ^ "Wednesday evening with Amar Singh Thapa Khukuri". bladeforums.com. Retrieved 17 January 2018.
  16. ^ "Weapons (Kukri, Katar, Kora) of Amar Singh Thapa in National Museum of Nepal, Kathmandu". pinterest.com. Retrieved 17 January 2018.
  17. ^ Patial, R.C. (17 October 2019). "Knowing The Khukri". Salute To The Indian Soldier − Magazine. Archived from the original on 8 November 2020. Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  18. ^ Dutta, Sujan (19 July 2019). "I Witnessed the Kargil War. That's Why I Won't Celebrate It". The Wire − India. Archived from the original on 31 October 2020. Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  19. ^ Gurung, Tim I. (6 April 2018). "A brief history of the Gurkha's knife – the kukri". Asia Times. Retrieved 8 November 2020.
  20. ^ "BBC - A History of the World - Object : The Fisher Kukri". www.bbc.co.uk. 2014. Archived from the original on 17 October 2020. Retrieved 8 November 2020.