Khukuri of the Month
Who Gurkhas ?
- Who Gurkhas ?
Who are 'The Gurkhas' ? - a complete history of the brave and loyal soldiers from Nepal
WHEN WE LOOK INTO TO THE OLD PAGES..
KHHI nepal's MD, Mr. Saroj Lama Tamang, with his in depth study and research has prepared this article on the history of 'The Gurkhas'. Starting from the beginning to the present stage, he explains how the history unfolds and what events took place in the journey of the Gurkhas from simple farmers to the world's most famous soldiers. The journey is long and remarkable and Mr. Lama has tried to cover some of the key developments in the history including some brief background of the subject matter.
in SUMMARY (at a glance)
- King Prithivi unites all kingdoms and states and names the new large kingdom as “Nepal”.
- Nepal’s ambitious territory expansion starts in all four directions of the kingdom.
- Nepal (Gorkha) and British come headlong and battles erupt between the two.
- Along with the fights they also generate admiration which leads into a peace treaty that gave British the right to recruit Gorkhas (Nepali) under British flagship.
- Various Gorkha Regiments are raised from the captured POW and volunteers.
- Gorkhas fought valiantly and remained loyal to the British in the Indian Mutiny. This brought Gorkhas-British closer like never before and Gorkhas were made a vital part of the British Indian Army.
- In the wake of Indian Independence, Gorkha Units were separated to British and Indian and each started their service for the respective country which continues till today.
Click any below to jump to that particular section of the history or just scroll down if you dont want to miss a thing..
- ENGLIGHTMENT / PREVIEW
- BACKGROUND OF THE MAN FROM GORKHA..
- RISE OF GORKHA KINGDOM
- MAJOR MILITARY ENGAGEMENTS
- The CHANGE that was DESTINED..
- BRAVE GORKHAS in ACTION..
Firstly some enlightenment .. >>
What is the difference between 'gUrkhas & gOrkhas' (U or O)?
GURKHAS: Its the word used by British after the 1947 Indian independence when British government brought the army under their sole flagship. Its a kind of ownership term used to address the army.
GORKHAS: Gorkhas with "O" was used more often than other words like Goorkhas, Ghurkas, Gorkas when British first encountered these soldiers from Gorkha (Nepal) in battles in early 19th century. Later the same word was officially used to call them until the 1947 Indian partition (independence).
Preview (basic knowledge)
Geographically located in the south-east Asia between India and China, Nepal, a secular (used to be a Hindu country before the abolishment of the last Shah king in 2008) country with a population of around 29 million (till early 2020) is an ancient country believed to have existed well over 1000 years before the BC era started but the universal recognition as a country came only after the unification in the mid 17th Century. Kathmandu is the Capital city; also known as the Land of Temples, houses the majestic Himalayas; is the birth place of Lord Buddha, embraces the amazing natural beauty and believed to have resided by Gods of heaven since pre-history period.
About 120 km north west of Kathmandu, Gorkha is a small mid western district in Nepal in today's context but with immense historic significance with a population of around 270 thousands (till early 2020) where majority of people belonging to Thapa, Magar, Gurung, Rai tribes reside. Kings, generals and army of Gorkha conquered several small scattered kingdoms into one big and named the whole occupied regions as "Nepal" in around 1767AD. Gorkha and its neighboring states were captured by the decedents of Rajputs from India in 16th century CE who are the source of Shah origin.
Title taken from "Gorkha", also known as "Gorkhali". People from Gorkha, especially army and soldiers from this place with whose strength king Prithivi Narayan Shah united Nepal in 1760's. Known for their military prowess, their courage, their brutality and their religions fervor; most Gorkhas are modestly built Hindus, religious and devoted, calm in nature yet ferocious fighter with the warrior intuition in blood. They are very good cultivators too (farmers).
"It is Better to die than to be a coward" - motto of the world famous Gurkha Soldiers
BRITISH INDIAN GORKHAS:
As they were later known after the treaty of Saugali in 1815-16. Gorkhas and East India Company (British) fought against each other in various military engagements out of which both stimulated great respect and admiration for one another. This later contributed to national level agreement that gave British the right to recruit Gorkhas under their flagship. Since British had colonized India and Gorkhas fought for British it became "British Indian Gorkhas" until the partition (independence) of India.
After the independence of India in 1947, of the existing 10 regiments of British Indian Gorkhas, 4 were seperated and taken by British. They made it their total ownership and in the process renamed as 'British Gurkhas' with "O" replaced by "U". This is now more universally accepted and widely used by all people of the world. Nepal men join the army under British Army regulations.
Regiments of British Indian Gorkhas that remained in India to serve the country became the "Indian Gorkhas". Of the 10, 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th and later 11th stayed with India. They started their military operation and development under the name Indian Gorkhas under Indian Army. Local also call them Gurkhe or Gurkhau in slang language. Indian Nepali community and native Nepali can join the force.
Background of the man from Gorkha and his surroundings >>
the Facts and Features..
The city of Kathmandu with its exotic temples, hills and a vibrant ethic population is one of the most romantic cities on earth. Approximately 200 kilometers from Kathmandu lies the valley of Pokhara surrounded by the mighty Annapurna range. The recruitment of the Gurkhas from the surrounding villages is concentrated in this region. Once in the hills, these villages can only be reached by a network of interconnecting footpaths through treacherous passes, across deep gorges and bamboo bridges. Torrential rain, blizzards, earthquakes, landslides and floods usually hit this region. Getting supplies here is difficult and farming is limited.
This is the home of the Gurkhas. A land that is inhospitable, tough and remote. It is also the landscape that makes the Gurkhas what they are. Culture also plays its subtle role in their overall development. They are family oriented and pride and honor are words and deeds synonymous with the Gurkhas. Their simplicity shines through their cheerful personality and the generosity of their hospitality is profound and touching. Yet, in warfare their strength of character and bravado is legendary. Gentle yet tough. The Gurkhas represent nearly all the ethnic groups of Nepal even though Magars, Rais, Gurungs and Tamangs form a majority within the ranks. Gurkhas are famous for their courage, loyalty, neutrality and impartiality. A Gurkha soldier is more than a mere warrior and embraces the traits of simplistic humanity without a fuss. The poignancy of their simple lives in remote, beautiful villages as well as the fierce determination they show in battle is a reflection that borders on the aesthetic.
A face contorted with determination and intensity, a warrior honorable, brave, loyal and astute. He is a symbol of these qualities in war and peace. His ferocity is as legendary as his loyalty to the country (army) and his regimental history is packed with acts of incredible bravery and sacrifice. The love of his mountainous homeland and his family is profound and keeps luring him back after the call of duty. He is the indomitable Gurkha soldier and a legend in his own right.
War is never pleasant but its harsh reality can exude the human side of the soldiers involved. Flipping through the pages of history, there are not many tales as fascinating as the history of the Gurkha warriors from the high Himalayas in Nepal.
The word "Gurkha" is derived from Gorkha. The latter is a small town in Nepal and the significance of this place is tantamount to the history of the Gurkhas. The importance of this town is monumental both for Nepali and Gurkha history. About 3-4 hours drive from Kathmandu valley, on the way to Pokhra lies the town of Gorkha where it all began. "Gorkha Durbar" is a palace as well as a fort built with a strategic intent by the kings and generals of the House of Gorkha for their planned expansion across the country and beyond. The palace is only 1463 meters above sea level but the climb is very deceptive and is much tougher than it seems. Once atop, it's easy to realize why this particular place was chosen as the focal point for launching military missions in the process of further expansion. It is also blessed with stupendous views of the Himalayas all around.
Prior to the recruitment of Gorkha soldiers into the British flagship, this is how their history unfolds >>
the Rise of the GORKHA Kingdom..
Prithvi Narayan Shah was the most famous king from the House of Gorkha and was born in the fort itself. At a time when Nepal was dissected into various small kingdoms, Prithvi Narayan Shah managed to unite them all through his military prowess and campaign. He spent 26 years of his life planning a military strategy. He finally launched his campaign after succeeding his father in 1742 and successfully united Nepal into one large kingdom in around 1768-69. Even though Prithvi Narayan Shah died in 1775, the rulers who succeeded him continued the expansion campaign beyond the new territories of Nepal. As the campaign progressed, ambition also grew with it. Northwards expansion towards Tibet angered the Chinese while southern expansion towards India alarmed the British. This brought the fierce Gorkhas (Gorkhali or even Nepali Sainik/Army) into direct conflict with the Honourable East India Company (British). The court of directors in London called for an assessment report of the situation. They found out that the Gorkhas had built a substantial munitions factory in the hills and had established efficient supply columns.
Gorkhas - the inborn soldiers
The Gorkha soldiers were known for their speed and their willingness to fight till death under extreme conditions. They also had an intricate knowledge of the terrain and were perfectly suited for guerilla warfare. The British were reluctant to take on such an elusive and successful Gorkha force, which had required the strength of a vast Chinese army to push them out of Tibet. Eventually the Governor General of Bengal was authorized to declare that the Company (British) was at war with the small but aggressive state of Nepal (after the Gorkha's unification the new large state was called Nepal). By the time this declaration was made, Nepal was under the insightful leadership of Prime Minister, Maharajah Bhimsen Thapa and very young king Girvan Yuddha Bikram Shah. This was to be the first campaign for the British General in the unfamiliar hills of Nepal.
Major military engagements
The British had decided to use a two-pronged attack using 22,000 men. The force was divided into eastern and western division :
EAST Side (present Dehradun; West of present Nepal): The eastern battalion was confronted by extremely difficult terrain and failed in every single objective and first campaign nearly collapsed. A British General by the name of Robert Rollo Gillespie left his camp at Meerut, 112 kilometers from Delhi and headed towards the Nepali border with 4000 men and 20 guns. He captured the valley of Dehra Dun but was abruptly halted for six weeks by Gorkha resistance run from a small fort in Kalunga; famously known as the "Nalapani Ko Ladain" in Nepal. It was built on a 152-meter high hill and was surrounded by dense undergrowth. In it were 600 men and women of Magar and Gurung descent under the astute command of Bal Bahadur Kunwar. Gillespie's army had surrounded the fort and was convinced that the Gorkhas would give up any kind of resistance since the British heavily outnumbered them. He sent a message asking the Gorkhas to surrender. Instead, the leader of the Gorkhas in the fort tore the letter and in the next few days repelled several attacks by the British. One of Gillespie's officers, James Fraser wrote: "they fought us in fair conflict like men, and in the intervals of actual combat, showed us a courtesy worthy of a more enlightened people." Another officer John Ship wrote: "I never saw more steadiness or bravery exhibited in my life. Run they would not and of death, they seemed to have no fear, though their comrades were falling thick around them, for we were so near that every shot told." In the middle of all this mayhem, a Gorkha soldier came clamoring over the ramparts. His jaw had been shattered by a musket ball and was pleading for medical assistance.
After receiving treatment from his British adversaries, the British were expecting him to surrender but he audaciously said no and headed back to the fort to resume the battle. Every British attack on the fort was repelled. The Gorkhas and their women threw every kind of missile at the British soldiers until, out of food, water and ammunition; the fort finally gave in to the attacks. Still, there was no surrender. The remaining 85 able-bodied Gorkhas escaped under the cover of darkness to fight another day. The battle of the fort had been ferocious and the British had suffered more losses. The British casualties included 31 officers and 732 soldiers while the Gorkhas lost 520. Both armies fought with utmost bravery and military proficiency and in return succeeded in earning mutual respect and admiration for one another in and through the battle. Several years later in 1823, two obelisks were raised at the sight of the fort in honor of the British and the "gallant adversary".
WEST Side (present Kangra; Far West of present Nepal): The western front was under the leadership of General David Ochterlony and faced the audacious Gorkha General Amar Singh Thapa. Ochterlony had already faced the rage of Sardar Bhakti Thapa at the Malaun fort which gave him a nasty stung. The Gorkhas were eventually forced to retreat but this small British victory did not dampen the Nepalese spirit. The British still needed more firepower to dislodge the Gorkhas. Given the circumstances, the court of directors decided to mobilize 35000 men and 120 artillery pieces. They managed to defeat the Gorkhas but such was their admiration for their adversary that they let General Amar Singh Thapa march out with all his arms and his personal property. The Gorkha (Nepalese) forces were heavily outstretched and were forced to seek a settlement before being completely outrun.
The CHANGE that was destined..
The Gorkhas finally caved in to pressure from the British and had to relinquish large parts of land they had won thus withdrawing from Sikkim, territories west of the Kali River and most of its lands in the terai. (Southern lowlands bordering India). One of the British generals wrote in 1815: "they are hardy, cheerful and endure privations and are very obedient, have not much of the distinction of caste and are a neutral kind of Hindu. Under our government, they would make excellent soldiers.” After this, an important and highly unusual clause was included in the peace agreement, which was became known as the "Treaty of Segauli". The clause gave the British the right to recruit Nepalese citizens. From then on, Nepal became the only country whose citizens fought in wars that it had no direct conflict with. The initiation of the recruitment itself was unique in military history. Seldom in the history of warfare been two sides so impressed by the others performance and bravery that they decide to unite rather than collide. This speaks volumes about the ferocity as well as the gentlemanly amicability of the Gorkha soldiers. From then on, the camaraderie between the British and Gurkha soldiers has grown unflinchingly.
The TURNING POINTS >>
- The formation of the Britsh Indian Gorkha Army started long before the "Treaty of Saguali" was actually signed by Nepal and Britain (East India Company). 1st, 2nd and 3rd Gorkha Riffles (as they were later known) were raised from the captured Prisoners of War of Indo-Gorkha war in 1814-15 and large number of volunteers from Gorkha (Nepal). They were initially recognized as the "Local Battalion" or "Native Army" and were deployed to numerous fronts and successfully assisted the British achieved their military objectives.
- However, it was only after the "Great Indian Mutiny (the Sepoy Revolt)" in 1857-58 in which the Gorkhas exhibited extra ordinary military prowess, fearsome courage and utmost loyalty that the British comprehended the Gorkhas and realized the importance and thus in the process it cemented the relationship of the British and Gorkha which continues till this day.
THE event that sealed Gorkhas' image forever..
The Honorable East Indian Company was in the verge of collapsing during the great Indian Mutiny that lasted for about two years. The deployment of Gorkha Units came as a savior for the company that was further boosted by the reinforcement of 7 Nepalese Regiments commanded by Prime Minister and Army Chief of Nepal Jung Bahadur Rana who himself eliminated the mutineers. This highly commendable support from the Gorkhas strengthened the bond of friendship and loyalty in between Britain and Nepal and both have been the closest of friends and allies since then. After the mutiny the company was taken over by the British Crown under it's direct order and in the process Gorkhas were granted with more power, duty, role and equipments. Gorkhas were highly recognized thus standardized and made an integral part of the British Indian Army.
Brave Gorkhas in Action
Gorkhas along with British have fought countless wars, campaigns, battles including the Great War (World War I) and World War II and in many post-world war fronts where Gorkhas have shown their outstanding bravery, courage and spirit to fight till death under the harshest of conditions and his loyalty has never been doubted. More than 200 thousand fought in WW I and close to around half a million in WW II with more than 50 thousand killed or injured in both wars. Gorkhas fought valiantly in each battle and in the act were bestowed by many military honors and awarded with numerous gallantry awards including the Victoria Cross or VC (British highest military award). Gurkhas continues to serve the British with the same passion, attitude and faith and their courage, loyalty and ability as an honorable and a fearsome soldier of the world has never been questioned and presumably will never be.
the RISE of the INVINCIBLE BRIGADE ..
After the separation of British Indian Gorkhas into British Gurkhas and Indian Gorkhas, both armies went through series of reforms and development. This led to the proper systemization and formations of various units and each army took active part in military operation, welfare and engagements for the country. British Gurkhas under British Army went on to operate as a contingent force in British Colonial states like Singapore, to Malaya to Borneo to Falklands to Kosovo to Middle East to Afghanistan to name few places where ever and whenever they were needed. Similarly on the other hand, the Indian Gorkhas under Indian Army fought number of wars from Indo-Pak wars to China to Kargil to Sri Lanka and to various fonts as peacekeepers for UN. All the regiments from each Brigade continue to serve their respective governments with the same energy, zeal and loyalty when the men were first discovered. Many battalions have been raised and major changes have been done so far to adopt with the every changing time, circumstances and demands by the respective country.
They have proven their worth . . . "We salute you"
"Khukuri"- The Pride of the Gurkhas - A documentary by KHHI, Nepal
A special documentary video prepared on the legendary Gurkhas and their formidable weapon, Khukuri. Watch and learn the origin and development of the brave soldiers and their amazing knife.