Gurkha go͝orˈkə [key], 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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2024, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Peoples (except New World)