After acquiring about a dozen good khukurī earlier this year the subject really started to arouse my interest. I'm impressed by the blade quality and the overall aesthetics of the earlier forms of khukurī.
A lot of the khukurī related vernacular in use today among collectors is based on oral traditions, and there is a lot of variety between the various glossaries that are scattered over the web. This is in part due to the various languages and dialects in use in the cultural melting pot that is Nepal.
I am always wary about applying oral traditions to the study of antiques because culture is in constant motion. Over time, concepts and terminology change, and on top of that many things are simply forgotten, misinterpreted, or misremembered.
Looking for more solid ground, I started a survey through older literature and dictionaries to see what I could find.
This article presents an annotated overview of historical khukurī terminology.
The source: a Nepali dictionary of 1931
The bulk of the terms come from the first Nepali-English dictionary, compiled by Sir Ralph Lilley Turner (1888 - 1983). The student of the khukurī could hardly have asked for a better source:
Sir Ralph Lilley Turner was a Cambridge educated man who went to India to serve as a lecturer. When the First World War broke out he served with the 2nd battalion, 3rd Queen Alexandra's Own Gurkha Rifles in the British Indian Army from 1915 - 1919. During this time he was awarded the Military Cross for "exemplary gallantry" for his service with the Ghurkas in Palestine.
After the war, he returned to his scholarly career in linguistics and served as a Professor of Indian Linguistics at Benares, Uttar Pradesh, and later as Professor of Sanskrit in London. In 1931 he wrote "A Comparative and Etymological Dictionary of the Nepali Language" which serves as the main source for the overview of terms that follows below. 1
His words pride the British memorial in London to the Gurkhas, unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II on 3 December 1997:
"As I write these last words, my thoughts return to you who were my comrades, the stubborn and indomitable peasants of Nepal. Once more I hear the laughter with which you greeted every hardship. Once more I see you in your bivouacs or about your fires, on forced march or in the trenches, now shivering with wet and cold, now scorched by a pitiless and burning sun. Uncomplaining you endure hunger and thirst and wounds; and at the last your unwavering lines disappear into the smoke and wrath of battle. Bravest of the brave, most generous of the generous, never had country more faithful friends than you."
Not surprisingly, his dictionary is full of period khukurī terminology and a treasure trove for our purposes.
Overview of khukurī parts
|4||Grooves along the base of the blade||खोल्||khol|
|5||Shoulder of blade||पातो||pāto|
|6||Ridge (of fuller)*||चिरा||cirā|
|11||Purse carried in the sheath||खिसा||khisā|
|12||Small utility knife||कर्द||karda|
|13||Fire striker / sharpening steel||चक्मक्||cakmak|
*Cirā is the only word in the list that is not directly related to the khukurī in the dictionary, but it is probably the word that is widely known today as chirra.
According to Taylor, cirā is derived of cirnu, literally "To split, rip up, cut, lacerate" is the word used for the ridges between each groove.2 It is also used in the slightly different form, ciro (चिरो) to describe: "A splinter; cut, slice; (esp.) a slice of cucumber cut lengthwise."
A number of khukurī types are differentiated by the layout of their fullers, or the absence thereof:
Āṅa (आङ); flat, like a kitchen knife.3
Āṅa khol (खोल् आङ); a single fuller running along the spine. (Commonly called ang khola.)
Du'i cirnu (दुइ चिर्नु); "two split", two fullers in the blade. (Commonly called dui chirra.)
Tīna cirnu (तीन चिर्नु); "three split", three fullers in the blade. (Commonly called tin chirra.)
Terms relating to decoration
Buṭṭā (बुट्टा) or buṭo; Embroidery; braid; filigree work.
Bel-buṭṭā (बेल्-बुट्टा); Scroll-work on a khukri-sheath.
Belahari (बेलहरि); Embroidery, scroll-work.
Belahari buṭṭā (बेलहरि बुट्टा); Scroll-work on a khukri sheath.
Jire buṭṭā (जिरे बुट्टा); Fluted ornamentation (e.g. that on the silver of a khukri sheath). Jire means of or like cumin-seed.
Haikale buṭṭā (हैकले बुट्टा) a kind of ornamentation on a khukri handle like a succession of hooks.
Mākhe buṭṭā (माखे बुट्टा); Ornamentation consisting of lines of small dots. Mākhe means "pertaining to flies or like flies.
Sã̄gle buṭṭā (साँगले बुट्टा); Ornamentation in chains.
Paṭpaṭe (पट्पटे); adjective: Striped. Also a particular kind of tree the wood of which is used for making khukri handles (= bhālu kāṭh). Talauma Hodgsoni also known as Magnolia hodgsonii, or Chinese magnolia.
Gilaṭ (गिलट्); Nickel, German silver. Sometimes used for the bolster of a khukri.
Ispāt (इस्पात्); Steel.
Phaulād (फौलाद्); A kind of hard and tough steel. From the Persian faulād, a name for wootz.
Jhulo (झुलो); Fibre; tinder made of the bark of the sago palm or bamboo or plantain and carried in the pocket of the khukurī sheath.
Relating to the khukurī
Pāin or pain (पाइन्); Blade temper, especially of a khukurī.
Lāgne (लाग्ने); Applicable, sharp (of knife).
Bhutte (भुत्ते); Adjective. Blunt, e.g. bhutte khukri: a blunt khukri.
Ujyāunu (उज्याउनु); To sharpen, give an edge to.
Lagāunu dhār (लगाउनु धार्); to give an edge, sharpen. Lagāunu literally means: To put on, wear (clothes); arrange, fix, set up, plant.
Macāunu (मचाउनु); To make rise, flourish (e.g. a khukri).
Kāṭnu (काट्नु ); To cut, cut off; kill; reap.
Jār kāṭnu (जार् काट्नु) to kill an adulterer. (When the husband has killed the adulterer with his khukri and cut off the nose and hair, he proclaims openly in the village 'jār kāṭẽ' and displays the blood-stained khukri. This proclamation saves him from the accusation of murder.). Jār (जार्) means paramour, adulterer.
Caṛkinu (चड़्किनु); To crack, split (e.g. dewāl caṛkyo the wall cracked, khukuri ko bẽṛ carkieko cha the haft of the khukri is split).
Kāmi (कामि); Blacksmith, iron-worker, armorer. (This is one of the pohoni or despicable castes, and the word kāmi, implying contempt, is often replaced by lohār.)
Lohār (लोहार्) Iron-worker, blacksmith.
1. Sir Ralph Lilley Turner; A comparative and etymological dictionary of the Nepali language. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1931.
2. I owe Jonathan Said for explaining that the chirra actually denote the ridges and not the fullers themselves. Personal communication.
3. Resham Shercha, an ex Ghurka. Personal communication.