Gurkhas: "Better to die than to be a coward"

Rare is the person today who has not heard of the Gurkha soldiers. These brave men have served for more than 300 years in the armies of Nepal and for 200 years in the British armies. Being a Gurkha soldier is a position of great status in Nepal.
The name Gurkha originates from the Gorkha community of central Nepal from which Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered the land of the Kathmandu Valley in 1769 and united the land of Nepal. The first two regular Gurkha battalions were raised in 1763. Calling themselves the Sri Nath and the Purano Gorakh, these battalions fought together against the British in 1769. They also took part in campaigns against Tibet and in the Anglo-Nepal war of 1814-16. It was then that the legend of Gurkha bravery appeared with their motto “Better to die than to be a coward”.


Impressed by what they had seen the British began recruiting Gurkhas into their service. Their first battalion saw action in the 3rd Maratta War of 1817. Their uniform at this time was a green tight-fitting jacket with pale blue baggy trousers. They had black belts crossed on their chest for ammunition pouch and bayonet and at first a low cap with pagri (turban) wrapped around it. From the start, they carried their traditional khukri knife tucked into the front of their waistband.
During the 1857 Indian mutiny the Gurkhas demonstrated not only bravery but also loyalty that would become equally as legendary. One of the most famous battles fought by the Gurkhas at that time was the defense of Hindu Rao's house just outside Delhi. They were under constant fire for more than 3 months and defeated 26 separate attacks from the city. Out of 9 officers only one survived. They lost 327 men out of 490. The loyalty of the Gurkhas was never again questioned.


In the last half of the 19th century these warriors fought all across south Asia, from Malaya to Afghanistan, even in Africa.
In 1901 the other hat for which the Gurkhas are now well known came into being. It gave much better protection from the sun and was adopted by all the other Gurkha regiments. These hats are called “Hats-Felt-Gurkha and are worn at an angle, tilted to the right.
In the World War I 314 000 Gurkhas served across Europe, Africa and in the Indian Army. In 1915 Kulbir Thapa won the first of the 13 Victoria Crosses; Karna Bahadur Rana won the second in 1918.


During World War II Gurkha troops were expanded to 45 battalions and served in Iraq, Cyprus, Italy, Greece, Burma, Malaya and Indonesia. 10 Victoria Crosses were awarded. Two of the battalions were paratroopers. As the tale is told today, the British were seeking Gurkha volunteers for a risky 300-metre airdrop behind enemy lines. About half of the troops stepped forward. The regiment leader proceeded to explain the troop’s role in the drop, when a surprised voice queried: “Oh, you mean we can use parachutes?” Every remaining Gurkha promptly volunteered.

In 1947 the Gurkha regiments were divided. Six became the Indian Gurkha Rifles and four the British Brigade of Gurkhas. The Gurkha regiments of the Indian Army fought against China in 1962 and Pakistan in 1965 and 1971. The British sector served in Malaya, Indonesia, Brunei and Cypris. In 1965 in action in Sarawak Rambahadur Limbu won the Gurkhas their 13th Victoria Cross.

Gurkhas are still regularly called upon. They took part in the operations in Kosovo and Bosnia, was involved in Sierra Leone and are part of the International Peacekeeping Force in Afghanistan.


  1. What is the source of above picture named Gurkha 1917? Is it in public domain?

  2. great...! and in singapire too since 1949.

  3. Namaste means bowing to you.
    Sanskrit word. Can be written a long passage, about the culture and how India treats guests.But not in this context. Anyway hello is not the meaning of namaste!!