GURKHA MILITARY HISTORY (British East India Company and British Army).
The word “Gorkhali” was used by the military of Gorkha King as they expanded and conquered the area that became Nepal in the late 18th century. Therefore “Gurkha” and “Gorkha” are a corruption of the word “Gorkhali” and came to be used form the mid 19th century onwards in the colonial British-Indian army. The early Gorkhalis that we will find out more about here are the forebearers of the Gurkha/Gorkha soldiers and share the same history until 1815. The year 1815 was the year the British East India Company (BEIC) started recruiting Gorkhalis into their military.
In 1858 the British Crown replaced the BEIC as “administrators” of India and in 1947 the ten Gurkha regiments of the Indian Army were divded between Great Britain and independent India. In that we often forget the role the Nepalese Army played as the forebearers of the Gorkhali army. The history of the Gurkhas/Gorkhas would not be complete unless we accept a common past and examine all three as they have since 1947 developed independently. This page is about the Gurkhas of the British Army and earlier British East India Company, the following page on the Gorkhas of the Indian Army and the page titled National Museum of Nepal about the common heritage shared as Gorkhalis.
Men have throughout history sought service with various powerful rulers, offering their martial skills for employment. It was not uncommon that martial men sought employment outside the area they were born in and the practise of offering their services rather normal and not thought of as a negative issue then. Mercenary in the modern world often comes with a negative tone but in history it was often a means of survival based on a skill you held and a life line of survival. In no way do I intend to call the modern Gurkhas/Gorkhas for mercenaries as that would be a large error and a mis-conception of the terms of service, but mean only as a general trend prior to the idea of modern nation states, let that be clear. It should perhaps be added that to take up arms for employment far away from home was not a unusall idea in the early days of Nepals making and still is not.
“The Almighty created in the Gurkha an ideal infantryman, indeed an ideal rifleman, brave, patient, adaptable, skilled in field-craft, intensely proud of his military record and unswerving loyalty. Add to this honesty in word and deed, his parade perfection, and his unquenchable cheerfulness….” – Field Marshal William “Bill” Slim (served with 6 GR and commanded 2/7 GR).
Over the last 200 years everything from Gorkha, Gurkha, Goorkhas and other ways of spelling it has been used by the Military and adds to some confusion as well. Please use common sense when drawing conclusions.
The word “Gorkhali” means all the people (of different faiths, language groups and ethno-tribal groups whom originated, lived, served and/or “ate the salt” of the Gorkha King(s) at some stage. Gorkhali applied to the larger community of people in and out of Nepal, who at some stage came from the Lands of the Gorkha King, which became Nepal. Being a Gorkhali was about a origin, a common language, a shared culutral base and those who trace their forefathers back to the land governed by the Shah dynasty of Gorkha at some stage.
A word which goes back to a time when the idea of nation-states was thought about rather differently and some events of history had not happened. It never meant only those residing or with citizenship of Nepal (citizenship is a result of a nation-state developing and a “modern” idea in Nepal) but included groups in what is today India, Tibet, Bhutan, Burma and elsewhere.
In due course words have been simplified to Gorkha and Gurkha (and the confusion there in-between) which today means:
Nepalese/Nepali, a person from Nepal and their national language.
Gorkhali, originally the people and military from the town and/or area of Gorkha. With the growth and expansion of the Gorkha Kingdom those whom accepted the reign of the Shah dynasty of Gorkha and became their subjects. Nepal was until the late 19th century refered to the Gorkha Kingdom and only in the 1920-30´s finally called Nepal and Nepalese (partly due to British pressure).
Gorkha, member of the Indian Army´s Gorkha Rifles or other units which recruits Nepalese citizens or people of Nepali origin with Indian citizenship. Gorkha can also refer to the people of the Nepalese diaspora spread over South Asia, the vast majority with roots and strong relationship to the Indian Military and/or colonial Armed Forces. Most likely had a forefather whom immigrated when their language was called Gorkhali and Nepal was refered to as the Gorkha Kingdom. Gurkha, member of the British Army´s Brigade of Gurkhas (and Singapore Police Force) which recruits Nepalese citizens. Gurkha can also refer to the people of the Nepalese diaspora spread over the UK and Commonwealth which have at some stage served in the British Armed Forces after 1947. It can also refer to a member of the colonial Indian Army whom served in a Gurkha Regiment or battalion as various words from Gurkha – Gorkha – Goorkhas and other words were used.
Gurkha, member of the British Army´s Brigade of Gurkhas (and Gurkha Contingent of the Singapore Police Force) which recruits Nepalese citizens. Gurkha can also refer to the people of the Nepalese diaspora spread over the UK and Commonwealth which have at some stage served in the British Armed Forces after 1947. It can also refer to a member of the colonial Indian Army whom served in a Gurkha Regiment or battalion as various words from Gurkha – Gorkha – Goorkhas and other words were used over the 19th and early 20th century