Gurkha, also spelled as Gorkha, are people from Nepal and parts of North India, who take their name from the eighth century Hindu warrior-saint Guru Gorakhnath. His disciple Bappa Rawal, born Prince Kalbhoj/Prince Shailadhish, founded the house of Mewar. Later descendants of Bappa Rawal moved further east to found the house of Gorkha, which in turn founded the Kingdom of 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. Gorkha is one of the 75 districts of modern Nepal.
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, hard working, fighting tenacity and military strategy. The British recruited heavily from these Martial Races for service in the colonial army.
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 house of Mewar, who became the first Gurkha 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 knife, the famous curved dagger 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 Gandhar, 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 for the time being.
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 and making 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. 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'etat 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'etat 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. The Thakur/Rajput Gurkhas were entered as officers, one of whom, (retired) General Narendra Bir Singh, Gurkha Rifles, while a young captain, rose to become aide-de-camp (A.D.C.) to Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India. 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!"
“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".
-Professor Sir Ralph Turner, MC, who served with the 3rd Queen Alexandra's Own Gurkha Rifles in the First World War.