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The kukri (Devanagari: ??????)(also sometimes spelled khukri or khukuri) is a curved Nepalese knife used as both tool and weapon. It is also a part of the regimental weaponry and heraldry of The Royal Gurkha Rifles. It is known to many people as simply the “Gurkha Blade” or “Gurkha Knife”. Also widely used in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand state of India, where it is called Kaanta or Dafya (in Kumaoni).
The kukri is basically designed for chopping and stabbing purposes as a weapon of war, but it still can be used in other household or daily tasks, such as: building or digging a furrow, to cut meat and vegetables, to cut trees etc. It functions as a cross between a knife and an axe.
Depending on the purpose, its design and manufacture varies. Blades are usually 3 – 10 cm wide and 30 – 38 cm long, but size varies depending on its purpose. 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.
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 (chiruwa) 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 . 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.
Kukris 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.
It is a matter of debate where the design came into Nepal from another or who promoted it first. It may be indigenous to the Indian region, but ancient Egypt, the Iberians, and the Greeks used similar designs.