[gur-kuh, goor-]
Gurkha, ethnic group of Nepal and neighboring areas. They claim descent from the Rajputs of N India and entered Nepal from the west after being driven from India. They conquered (early 16th cent.) the small Nepalese state of Gurkha (or Gorkha) and henceforth called themselves Gurkhas. They expanded eastward, and by the mid-18th cent. had established their authority over all of Nepal. Their invasion of Tibet in 1791 brought Chinese retaliation, and a war (1814-16) with the British in India resulted in bringing strong British influence to Nepal. The Gurkhas, predominantly Tibeto-Mongolians, speak Khas, a Rajasthani dialect of Sanskritic origin. Under the Gurkha dynasty, Hinduism became the state religion of Nepal. Gurkhas in the region around Darjeeling in West Bengal state, India, have agitated for a separate state. Gurkhas have served in the armies of India and of Great Britain; 33 battalions served alongside the British in World War I, and 45 battalions in World War II. Gurkha soldiers bear the famed kukri, a short curved sword.

See studies by H. James and D. Sheil-Small (1965) and D. L. Bolt (1967, repr. 1969).

Prithvi Naraya Shahdev and Sri Teen Maharaja Jung Bahadur), The Way of Sacrifice: The Rajputs, Pages 28-30, Graduate Thesis, South Asian Studies Department, Dr. Joseph T. O'Connell, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario Canada, 1996. His disciple Bappa Rawal, born Prince Kalbhoj/Prince Shailadhish, founded the house of Mewar, Rajasthan (Rajputana). Later descendants of Bappa Rawal moved further east to found the house of Gorkha, which in turn founded the Kingdom of Nepal. Gorkha is one of the 75 districts of modern Nepal.

Gurkhas are best known for their history of bravery and strength in the British Army's Brigade of Gurkhas and the Indian Army's Gorkha regiments. The Gurkhas were designated by British officials as a "Martial Race". "Martial Race" was a designation created by officials of British India to describe "races" (peoples) that were thought to be naturally warlike and aggressive in battle, and to possess qualities like courage, loyalty, self sufficiency, physical strength, resilience, orderliness, the ability to work hard for long periods of time, fighting tenacity and military strategy. The British recruited heavily from these Martial Races for service in the colonial army.


The word Gorkha is derived from the prakrit words "go rakkha" (Sanskrit gau raksha) meaning "protectors of cows".


Gurkhas claim descent from the Hindu Rajputs and Brahmins of Northern India, who entered modern Nepal from the west. Guru Gorkhanath had a Rajput Prince-disciple, the legendary Bappa Rawal, born Prince Kalbhoj/Prince Shailadhish, founder of the Royal house of Mewar, who became the first Gurkha (Gorkha) and is said to be the ancestor of the present Royal family of Nepal.

The legend states that Bappa Rawal was a teenager in hiding, when he came upon the warrior saint while on a hunting expedition with friends in the jungles of Rajasthan. Bappa Rawal chose to stay behind, and care for the warrior saint, who was in deep meditation. When Guru Gorkhanath awoke, he was pleased with the devotion of Bappa Rawal. The Guru gave him the Kukri (Khukuri) knife, the famous curved blade of the present day Gurkhas. The legend continues that he told Bappa that he and his people would henceforth be called Gurkhas, the disciples of the Guru Gorkhanath, and their bravery would become world famous. He then instructed Bappa Rawal, and his Gorkhas to stop the advance of the Muslims, who were invading Afghanistan (which at that time was a Hindu/Buddhist nation). Bappa Rawal took his Gurkhas and liberated Afghanistan - originally named Gandhara, from which the present day Kandahar derives its name. He and his Gorkhas stopped the initial Islamic advance of the 8th century in the Indian subcontinent.

There are legends that Bappa Rawal (Kalbhoj) went further conquering Iran and Iraq before he retired as an ascetic at the feet of Mt. Meru, having conquered all invaders and enemies of his faith.

It is a misconception that the Gurkhas took their name from the Gorkha region of Nepal. The region was given its name after the Gurkhas had established their control of these areas. In the early 1500s some of Bappa Rawal's descendants went further east, and conquered a small state in present-day Nepal, which they named Gorkha in honour of their patron saint.

By 1769, through the leadership of Sri Panch (5) Maharaj Dhiraj Prithvi Narayan Shahdev (1769–1775), the Gorkha dynasty had taken over the area of modern Nepal. They made Hinduism the state religion, although with distinct Rajput warrior and Gorkhanath influences.

In the Gurkha War (1814–1816) they waged war against the British East India Company army. The British were impressed by the Gurkha soldiers and after reaching a stalemate with the Gurkhas made Nepal a protectorate. Much later, they were granted the right to freely hire them as mercenaries from the interiors of Nepal (as opposed to the early British Gurkha mercenaries who were hired from areas such as Assam (ie. Sirmoor Rifles) and were then organised in Gurkha regiments in the East India Company army with the permission of then prime minister, Shree Teen (3) Maharaja (Maharana) Jung Bahadur Rana, the first Rana Prime-minister who initiated a Rana oligarchic rule in Nepal. Jung Bahadur was the grandson of the famous Nepalese hero and Prime minister Bhimsen Thapa. Originally Jung Bahadur and his brother Ranodip Singh brought a lot of upliftment and modernisation to Nepalese society, the abolishment of slavery, upliftment of the untouchable class, public access to education etc. but these dreams were short lived when in the coup d'état of 1885 the nephews of Jung Bahadur and Ranodip Singh (the Shumshers J.B. or Satra (17) Family) murdered Ranodip Singh and the sons of Jung Bahadur, stole the name of Jung Bahadur and took control of Nepal bringing the darkest period of Nepalese history (104 years of dictatorial rule). This Shumsher Rana rule is regarded as one of the reasons of Nepal lagging behind in modern development and a Dark Age of Nepalese History. The children of Jung Bahadur and Ranodip Singh mainly live outside of Kathmandu, in Nepal and mainly in India after escaping the coup d'état of 1885.

The "original" Gurkhas who were descended from the Rajputs (Thakuri and Chetri) refused to enter as soldiers and were instead given positions as officers in the British-Indian armed forces. The non-Kashaktriya Gurkhas entered as soldiers (ie, Magar, Gurung).

The Thakur/Rajput Gurkhas were entered as officers, one of whom, (retired) General Narendra Bahadur Singh, Gurkha Rifles, great grandson of Jung Bahadur, while a young captain, rose to become aide-de-camp (A.D.C.) to Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India.

The Gurkha soldier recruits were mainly drawn from several ethnic groups. When the British began recruiting from the interiors of Nepal these soldiers were mainly drawn from Magar, Gurung, Rai and Limbu, although earlier British Gurkhas included Garhwalis, Kumaonis, Assamese and others as well.

After the British left India, Gorkhalis continued seeking employment in British and Indian forces, as officers and soldiers.

Under international law present-day British Gurkhas are not treated as mercenaries but are fully integrated soldiers of the British Army, operate in formed units of the Brigade of Gurkhas, and abide by the rules and regulations under which all British soldiers serve. Similar rules apply for Gurkhas serving in the Indian Army.

The Gorkha war cry is "Jai Mahakali, Ayo Gorkhali" which literally translates to "Glory be to the Goddess of War, here come the Gorkhas!"

Professor Sir Ralph Turner, MC, who served with the 3rd Queen Alexandra's Own Gurkha Rifles in the First World War, wrote of Gurkhas:

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.

British East India Company army

Gurkhas served as troops under contract to the East India Company in the Pindaree War of 1817, in Bharatpur in 1826 and the First and Second Anglo-Sikh Wars in 1846 and 1848. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Gurkhas fought on the British side, and became part of the British Indian Army on its formation. The 2nd Gurkha Rifles (The Sirmoor Rifles) defended Hindu Rao's house for over three months, losing 327 out of 490 men. The 60th Rifles (later the Royal Green Jackets) fought alongside the Sirmoor Rifles and were so impressed that following the mutiny they insisted 2nd Gurkhas be awarded the honours of adopting their distinctive rifle green uniforms with scarlet edgings and rifle regiment traditions and that they should hold the title of riflemen rather than sepoys. Twelve Nepalese regiments also took part in the relief of Lucknow under the command of Shri Teen (3) Maharaja Maharana Jung Bahadur of Nepal and his older brother C-in-C Ranaudip Singh (Ranodip or Ranodeep) Bahadur Rana (later to succeed Jung Bahadur and become Sri Teen Maharaja Ranodip Singh of Nepal).

British Indian Army

From the end of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 until the start of the First World War the Gurkha Regiments saw active service in Burma, Afghanistan, the North-East and the North-West Frontiers of India, Malta (the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-78), Cyprus, Malaya, China (the Boxer Rebellion of 1900) and Tibet (Younghusband's Expedition of 1905).

Between 1901 and 1906, the Gurkha regiments were renumbered from the 1st to the 10th and redesignated as the Gurkha Rifles. One hundred thousand Gurkhas fought in the First World War. They served in the battlefields of France in the Loos, Givenchy, Neuve Chapelle and Ypres; in Mesopotamia, Persia, Suez Canal and Palestine against Turkish advance, Gallipoli and Salonika. One detachment served with Lawrence of Arabia.

During the Battle of Lalos the 8th Gurkhas fought to the last, and in the words of the Indian Corps Commander, "found its Valhalla". During the Gallipoli Campaign the 6th Gurkhas captured a feature later known as "Gurkha Bluff". At Sari Bair they were the only troops in the whole campaign to reach and hold the crest line and look down on the Straits which was the ultimate objective. Second Battalion of the 3rd Gurkha Rifles was involved in the conquest of Baghdad.

In the interwar years, Gurkhas fought in the Third Afghan War in 1919 followed by numerous campaigns on the North-West Frontier, particularly in Waziristan.

During World War II, the Gurkhas started with 8 one-battalion regiments and 2 two-battalion regiments; the Nepalese crown let the British recruit 40 extra battalions — 55 in total — and let them serve everywhere in the world. Nepalese Gurkhas numbered 250,000 in total. In addition to keeping peace in India, Gurkhas fought in Syria, North Africa, Italy, Greece and against the Japanese in Singapore and the jungles of Burma. The 4th battalion of the 10th Gurkha Rifles became a nucleus for the Chindits. They fought in the Battle of Imphal.

Gurkha military rank system in the British Indian Army

British Indian Army and Current Indian Army /Current British Army Equivalence

British Gurkha Victoria Cross Recipients:


  • As opposed to British army officers who received regular Queen's or King's Commissions, Gurkha officers in this system would receive the Viceroy's Commission. After Indian Independence, Gurkha officers in those regiments which became part of the British Army were known as King's Gurkha Officers and later Queen's Gurkha Officers (QGOs), receiving the King's and later Queen's Gurkha Commission. This distinction implied that Gurkha officers had no authority to command troops of British regiments.
  • The equivalent ranks in the post 1947 Indian Army were (and are) known as Junior Commissioned Officers (JCOs). They retained the traditional rank titles used in the British Indian Army - Jemadar (later Naib Subedar), Subedar and Subedar Major.
  • While in principle any British subject may apply for a commission without having served in the ranks previously, the same cannot be said about Gurkha officers. It was customary for a Gurkha soldier to rise through the ranks and prove his ability before his regiment would consider offering him a commission.
  • From the 1920s, Gurkhas could also receive King's Indian Commissions, and later full King's or Queen's Commissions, which put them on a par with British officers. This was rare until after the Second World War.

Gurkha Rifle Regiments ca.1800-1946


After Indian independence – and partition – in 1947 and under the Tripartite Agreement, six Gurkha regiments joined the post-independence Indian Army. Four Gurkha regiments were transferred to the British Army. To the disappointment of their British officers the majority of Gurkhas given a choice between British or Indian Army service opted for the latter. The reason appears to have been the pragmatic one that the Gurkha regiments of the Indian Army would continue to serve in their existing roles in familiar territory and under terms and conditions that were well established. The only substantial change was the substitution of Indian officers for British. By contrast the four regiments selected for British service faced an uncertain future in (initially) Malaya - a region where relatively few Gurkhas had previously served. The four regiments (or eight battalions) in British service have since been reduced to a single (two battalion) regiment while the Indian units have been expanded beyond their pre-Independence establishment of twelve battalions.

The principal aim of the Tri-Partite Agreement was to ensure that Gurkhas serving under the Crown would be paid on the same scale as those serving in the new Indian Army. This was significantly lower than the standard British rates of pay. While the difference is made up through cost of living and location allowances during a Gurkha's actual period of service, the pension payable on his return to Nepal is much lower than would be the case for his British counterparts.

With the abolition of the Nepalese Monarchy, the future recruitment of Gurkhas for British and Indian service has been put into doubt. A spokesperson for the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which is expected to play a major role in the new secular republic, has stated that recruitment as mercenaries is degrading to the Nepalese people and will be banned.

British Army Gurkhas

Main article Brigade of Gurkhas for details of British Gurkhas since 1948

Four Gurkha regiments joined the British Army on January 1 1948:

They formed the Brigade of Gurkhas and were initially stationed in Malaya. There are also a number of additional Gurkha regiments including the 69th Gurkha Field Squadron and the 70th Gurkha Field Support Squadron, both of which are included in the 36th Engineer regiment.

Currently (Nov '06) "The Brigade of Gurkhas" in the British Army has the following regiments:

2 Infantry Battalions -

Queen's Gurkha Signals which includes -

  • 250 Gurkha Signal Squadron
  • 246 Gurkha Signal Squadron
  • 248 Gurkha Signal Squadron

Queen's own Gurkha Logistics Regiment

Queen's Gurkha Engineers -

  • 69th Gurkha Field Squadron
  • 70th Gurkha Field Squadron

In addition to these Regiments The Brigade of Gurkhas has its own Clerks and Chefs who are posted among the above mentioned units.

Gurkhas in Hong Kong -

  • 26th Gurkha Brigade (1948–1950)
  • 51st Infantry Brigade (disbanded 1976)
  • 48th Gurkha Infantry Brigade (1957-1976; renamed Gurkha Field Force 1976-97; returned to old title 1987-ca.1992)

Indian Army Gorkhas

Main article: Gorkha regiments (India) for details on Gorkhas in the Indian Army

Upon independence in 1947, the spelling was changed to Gorkha and six Gurkha regiments remained with the Indian Army:

Additionally, a further regiment, 11 Gorkha Rifles, was raised. All royal titles were dropped when India became a republic in 1950.

In 1999 5/8 Gorkha Rifles were sent as part of the Indian Army UN contingent of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) to secure the diamond fields against the Revolutionary United Front.

Singapore Gurkhas Contingent

The Gurkha Contingent (GC) of the Singapore Police Force was formed on 9 April 1949 from selected ex-British Army Gurkhas. It was raised to replace a Sikh unit which had existed prior to the Japanese occupation during the Second World War and is an integral part of the Police Force.

The GC is a well trained, dedicated and disciplined body whose principal role is as a specialist guard force. In times of crisis it can be deployed as a reaction force. During the turbulent years before and after independence, the GC acquitted itself well a number of times during outbreaks of civil disorder. The Gurkhas displayed the courage, self restraint and professionalism for which they are famous and earned the respect of the society at large.

Recently the GC can be seen patrolling the streets and have replaced local policemen to guard key installations. Before the 9/11 attacks, they were seldom seen in public.

The most recent deployment of the GC was to provide additional security for the Singapore Airshow, Asia's largest airshow and the hunt for the escaped terrorist, Mas Selamat.

Brunei Gurkha Reserve Unit

The Gurkha Reserve Unit is a special guard force in the Sultanate of Brunei. The 2,000 strong Gurkha unit is made up of British Army veterans. The unit functioned primarily as a praetorian guard that protected the sultan, the Royal Family and oil installations.


Gurkha soldiers have been awarded 13 Victoria Crosses, all but one (Rambahadur Limbu) were awarded when all Gurkha regiments were still part of the Indian Army. An additional 13 VCs have been awarded to British Officers in Gurkha regiments. Since Indian independence, Gurkhas have also been awarded 3 Param Vir Chakras.

Ethnically, Gurkhas who are presently serving in the British armed forces are Indo-Tibeto-Mongolians. Gurkhas serving in the Indian Armed Forces are of both groups, Indo-Tibeto-Mongolian and ethnic Rajput. Gurkhas of Indo-Tibeto-Mongolian origin mostly belong to the Gurung, Magar, Tamang, Khasa and Kiranti origin, many of whom are adherents of Tibetan Buddhism and Shamanism.

All Gurkhas, regardless of ethnic origin, speak Nepali, an Indo-Aryan language. They are also famous for their large knife called the khukuri, which is featured in an X shaped congifuration on their emblem.

In the mid 1980s some Nepali speaking groups in West Bengal began to organize under the Gorkhaland National Liberation Front, calling for their own Gurkha state. In 1988 they were given broader autonomy as the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council.

Treatment of Gurkhas in the United Kingdom

The treatment of Gurkhas and their families has been the subject of controversy in the United Kingdom following revelations that Gurkhas received smaller pensions than their British equivalents. On the 8 March 2007, it was announced by the British Government that all Gurkhas who signed up after July 1, 1997 would receive a pension equivalent to that of their British counterparts. In addition, Gurkhas would, for the first time, be able to transfer to another army unit after five years service to broaden their experience. It was also stated that, for the first time in the history of the Gurkhas, women would be allowed to join - although not in infantry units, in line with general British Army policy.

Despite this, many Gurkhas who had not served long enough to entitle them to a pension faced hardship on their return to Nepal, and some critics have derided the Government's decision to only award the new pension to those joining after the 1 July, 1997, claiming that this left many ex-Gurkhas still facing a financially uncertain retirement. A charity, the Gurkha Welfare Trust, provides aid to alleviate hardship and distress among Gurkha ex-servicemen. The nationality status of Gurkhas and their families was also previously an area of dispute, with claims that some ex-army Nepalese families were being denied residency and forced to leave Britain. The new policy on Gurkhas (announced by the British Government on 8 March, 2007) guarantees residency rights in Britain for retired Gurkhas and their families. In a landmark ruling on 30 September 2008 the High Court in London decided that Gurkhas who left the Army before 1997 did have an automatic right of residency in the United Kingdom. Before this ruling only Ghurkas who left the British Army after 1997 were granted automatic residency benefits. In line with the ruling of the High Court the Home Office is to review all cases affected by this decision.

Hong Kong

A considerable number of ex-Gurkhas and their families live in Hong Kong, where they are particularly well represented in the private security profession (G4S Gurkha Services, Pacific Crown Security Service, Sunkoshi Gurkha Security) and among labourers. Ex-Gurhas left barracks and moved into surrounding urban area. There are considerable Nepalese communities in Yuen Long and Kwun Chung.

British citizenship

In July 2006, British authorities granted the right to full British citizenship to all Nepalese and their dependants serving the British army during its stays in Britain's former colonial territories, among them Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, which entitles them to stay and work in the United Kingdom. According to the press secretary there are approximately 140,000 eligible to apply. Similar rights were notably not granted to those Hong Kong citizens, with British Dependent Territory passports, serving in the Hong Kong Military Service Corps (although a limited number of those applying were granted residency) or to the Sikh detachment of the ASD guard, many of whom were left stateless in 1997, nor have they been granted to Commonwealth citizens previously or currently serving in the British Army. A recent High Court decision on a test case in London, however, has acknowledged the 'Debt of honour' of Gurkhas discharged before 1997, and that immigration cases be reviewed, which could set a precedent for citizenship privileges

Malaysian Armed Forces and citizenship

After the Federation of Malaya became independent from the United Kingdom in August 1957, many Ghurkas became soldiers in the Malayan armed forces, especially in the Royal Ranger Regiment. Others became security guards, mainly in Kuala Lumpur.

United States Navy

The United States Navy employs Gurkha Guards as sentries at its base in NSA Bahrain. The Gurkhas work alongside Navy members in day to day operations. Gurkhas are also sometimes employed to provide security for ships in foreign ports.

See also

Further reading

  • Purushottam Sham Shere J B Rana, Nepalese Historian, Jung Bahadur Rana-The Story of His Rise and Glory, ISBN 81-7303-087-1
  • The Mewar Encyclopedia, Compiled, written and edited by Ian Austin and Thakur Nahar Singh Jasol
  • Chauhan, Dr. Sumerendra Vir Singh (Direct Descendant of Maharaj-Dhiraja Prithvi Narayan Shahdev and Sri Teen Maharaja Jung Bahadur), The Way of Sacrifice: The Rajputs, Pages 28-30, Graduate Thesis, South Asian Studies Department, Dr. Joseph T. O'Connell, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario Canada, 1996.
  • Goswami, C.G. and M.N. Mathur, Mewar and Udaipur, Himnashu Publicaitons, Udaipur-New Delhi
  • Davenport, Hugh, The Trials and Triumphs of the Mewar Kingdom, Maharana Mewar Charitable Foundation, Udaipur
  • Latimer, Jon, Burma: The Forgotten War, London: John Murray, 2004
  • Tod, Lieut.-Col. James, edited by William Crooke, C.I.E., Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan, 3 volumes, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, reprint 1994
  • Austin, Ian, Mewar-The World’s Longest Serving Dynasty, Roli Books, Delhi/The House of Mewar, 1999
  • Gurkha Walking books by Neil Griffiths: 'Hebridean Gurkha; 'Gurkha Highlander'; 'Gurkha Reiver' Neil takes a Scottish cross-country walk with Gurkhas every year to raise funds for the Gurkha Welfare Trust.
  • Gurkhas by Sandro Tucci (ISBN 0-241-11690-2)
  • Staff. Gurkha tells of citizenship joy BBC, 2 June 2007. Tul Bahadur Pun a former Gurkha who won the Victoria Cross has told of his joy at being given the right to live in the UK.


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