Freitag, 4. September 2015

Shut up and forge;-) - Humbling efforts by Kami craftsmen to make a Khukhuri... and the origins of Gorkha fighting prowess in Laya Yoga?

At Khukhuri house I found this very excellent "making of" a Khukhuri.

Now most of my readers are acquainted with this formidable tool, the big knife of the Gurkhas, not only a British army unit, but more so a Nepalese ethnos. Legend has it that as the British came to Nepal, the Gurkhas gave them a right kicking up the spine. But who are those famed warriors feared throughout the world for their fighting prowess.

The Gurkhas are often associated with their area of provenience. Gorkha is one of the 75 districts of Nepal. Each year thousands of Gorkha youth compete for 200 positions in the British army. This is due to severe poverty in the area, and it can be argued that the Tibet / Nepal thematic complex and the earthquake that only but recently took place in Nepal does not help either. The British government now is about to find a solution to cater for veteran Gorkha soldiers who had served in the British army.

During WWI the Gurkha soldiers of the British batallions were feared in the trenches throughout France for their fierce and merciless style of fighting and their fearsome Khukhuri blades.

The warcry "Ayyo bír gorkhali" (people of Gorkha over you!) therefore struck terror into the hearts of their enemies. But is that all there is to those people? In Gorkha (and throughout Nepal) the Khukhuri is more often than not used as a simple farming tool. It´s used for chopping wood and butchering, but also preparing food, even peeling potatoes. Even Nepali housewives take pride into their skill when preparing food with a Khukhuri!

The name of the Gorkha region goes back to a Hindu warrior saint, Guru Gorakshanath. The suffix -nath seems to refer to a master, and in Yoga there are nine masters, "Naths". Guru Gorakshanath therefore might have the meaning of "master teacher of Gorkha". Gorakshanath is said to be watching mankind for several thousand years and the teaching of "Laya" Yoga, a special meditation practice stimulating the so-called Chakra energy centres of the human body. Simply put, there might be a connection between the ancient mythology and modern neurology, but here´s not the place to rant on endlessly about it. Suffice to say that Laya Yoga is closely connected with Kundalini yoga. In Yoga mythology, the Kundalini is symbolized by a snake along the spine. The Kundalini force is awakened by meditation and practice (Yoga) and connects the higher and lower neurological areas. Pribram (1969) and Kamiya (1968) have both given evidence of the possible existence of neurological master areas and the possibility of the conscious control of brain waves, resulting in the possibility of mastering the subsemantic and subconscious areas of the mind and the neural cortex.

Gorakshanath practiced Tapasya (ascetic practice by heat, a common experience when meditating Kundalini) and teached his learnings as a legendary master in Gorkha.

Don´t know how you see this, but I get ideas...;-)

The knife itself gives evidence of a deeper cultural connection than usual. I quote from

"What we call a 'blood-gutter'* is called the aunlo bal (meaning 'finger of strength'). The notch near the hilt, called a cho or a kauro (Turner [2740]), has various meanings: the sun and moon (symbols of Nepal), the sexual organs of Hindu gods and goddesses, a cow track (the cow being sacred to the Hindus). Rawson writes of the cho : '[t]he root of the edge of a Kukri blade contains a semicircular nick about three-quarters of an inch deep, generally with a tooth at the bottom, which like the lotus [often stamped] on the blade of the Kora, the Gurkhas say represents the female generative organ, intended presumably to render the blade "effective"' (pg. 54) [in this connexion it is also interesting to note that Shivaji, the 17th-c. Marathi 'rebel' against the Mughals, named his sword 'Bhavani', one of the names of the goddess (see Rawson, pg.89 n.80)]. The buttcap of the knife is said to resemble the eye of god - always watching, ever seeing. The rings around the handle also mean something though their true significance has been lost in the mists of time. Even the basic curve is said to look like a crescent moon, a symbol of Nepal."

The knife therefore, even in everyday use, has more or less cultural implications and even a ritualistic meaning. In every culture, however, a sword or any cold steel weapon is seen as an extension of the body. In Japan, the famed Katana sword is said to carry the soul of the samurai. In medieval Europe, similar things can be said of the sword of chivalry. The apotropaeic meaning and symbolism of knives is also found throughout the world. In Finland, it was said to believe that if you found a Puukko you could use it to protect your crops, to invoque Pellonpekko, the God of crops, and to ward off Hiisi (goblins) in modern folklore, or, more traditionally, to mark a "hiisi" (sacred place in nature) (A.V. Rantasalo: Der Ackerbau im Volksglauben der Finnen und Esten). In Germany, the famed "Drudenmesser", also had an apotropaeic meaning. Apotropaeism, however, is not dynamic, in that it is meant to fend off Evil in a symbolic context. In the case of the Khukhuri, however, the symbolism is far more dynamic. The "finger of strength" has a phallic meaning, while the Cho represents more of the chtonic, female aspect. I strongly suspect that the incorporation of male and female aspects shows a strong background in either shamanistic symbolism (Kirati or similar styles) or Hindu yoga philosophy. This becomes even more abundantly clear if you call the "finger of strength" what it is called in some cases, namely the "Shivalingam". Often translated wrongly as a "phallus", it is the "mark of (formless) Shiva". Shiva is seen as "limitless, transcendent, unchanging and formless", and incorporating both genders. If you now take out your prized Khukhuri, and look at the blade, you get some more ideas.

Taking into account that Guru Gorakshanath received his tutoring by Nath Matsyendra, who overheard the lessons of Shiva himself at the bottom of the ocean, and that the Gorkhali trace their origin back to this warrior-saint.

My theory is that, while the martial art of the Gorkhali has never been systematically laid out, as in Chinese or Japanese martial arts, the lessons learned are actually immanent in the very concept of the tool and weapon. The Khukhuri in itself is a philosophical concept of a somewhat sic-et-non nature, incorporating both female and male aspects. These aspects are united to make the blade, making it in itself a manifestation of Shiva. Given that Yoga practice is a sacred art in India (and Nepal), also practiced by the Kshatriya and belonging in part to Dhanurveda, and a skilled warrior is always part of the Kshatriya caste (and the arduous training of Gorkha youth implies that they work according to a similar routine), we can easily assume that the warrior as well masters the spiritual as the actual dimension of wielding the blade. If I may say it in a bit of an abbreviated manner, it is as if you hold the symbol of your God in hand. A crucifix makes for not so good a cutting tool, but a sword as an abstraction as in chivalry does. Please take note that I do NOT think any Gorkhali soldier is a warrior saint and lives according to this code of conduct. But I can but guess what is left in modern Gorkhali mythology of this philosophy. In any way, this people takes pride in their inheritance and I strongly suspect that this background shows in their fighting prowess.

But this is but one aspect. Imagine something a bit less romantic now. Imagine you live in a region a central European would simply call a wasteland, with next to no resources. Agriculture is next to impossible, and yet this is your home. Families can but just so make a living from the ground they live on. The literacy rate is about 60%, health care is scarce and in an emergency people have to go a long distance or end up dying. This means you NEED to develop your survival skills, and even getting goods in and out means a great effort. Then you have the chance to become a warrior according to your mythology. You strive hard to become one, and then some recruiting officer of the British Royal Army drops by offering you a fairy-tale payment you have never dreamt of. Plus, you then will be a part of a legendary army unit. Wouldn´t you take pride in the fact that because your ancestors gave them a kicking, and won the battle, but not the war, the victors would respect you so much they want your service instead of routing your culture. A victor, who is not quite known for entertaining that endeavour at all? But your people are nearly the only culture respected by this world power due to their fierce fighting prowess? What would you do? I guess it is self-explanatory.

I think, personally, that there are several aspects of the military superiority of the Gorkhali units:

-their hard life left them with superior survival skills and a nothing-to-lose-everything-to-win-mindset
-due to their mythology, they take pride in prowess and loyalty
-their martial skills, while no longer systematically laid out and practiced, date back to ancient roots where the skill with blade and shield and other weapons were of grave importance
-martial training has some religious aspects, if not serving as religious practice in itself

I believe we can learn from the Gorkhali. In Western civilization, we suffer from a loss of values and over-saturization. There is a taboo put on religion and philosophy. Rationalism and monetary issues even rule our interhuman  relationships. Why then, a martial art? Why not tell fairy tales and be content?

Because we have to break a whole world of taboos. Philosophy is currently smiled at, and while you can buy the next salvatory religion at every corner, there is no authentic spiritual dimension to most of them. Even Christianity suffers from a sellout. If you believe in fairy tales and tell them to your children, you are a dunce. Kids of an age of 7 converse with each other about capital assets. Their goal in life is to become a top manager.

War and martial arts cannot but be "ultima ratio". The term has a very explanatory dimension, meaning the ultimate reason. It is the last effort of reasoning, it is an extreme measure not to be employed. Therefore it is well suited to mark out the extreme end of the range. "Bello pater omniae", war is the father of all things in our culture. Martial arts do not teach you just how to deal with an opponent, but render you strong enough to cope with a task not necessarily with violent means.

But a martial art give you the whetstone of reality. If your spiritual concept works in a martial and thusly existential situation, chance is, it contains enough truth to be considered "probatum est", proved.

The Khukhuri was not meant primarily as a weapon of warfare, and while it is very effective in that, it is safe to say it is seeing far more use as an everyday tool. It is made in Gorkha, for instance, with very simple implements and a skill far exceeding ours. Every step of even producing it can be seen as a symbolic one. Talking a bit more mundanely, we could say, it is made with care. It is not in the professional equipment (they have none). It is in the care and skill and love that goes into the production process. Even at this level, we are talking of a non-dualistic concept, a sic-et-non view unto the world. We as a Western civilization have to learn to integrate the dualities. We should not pray to Shiva, but look closely at our inheritance and myth and integrate it with our skill and prowess.

Oh, and we have to quit whining. Those Kami create wonders from crap. From junkyard steel, with a hole in the ground for a forge. They do not need 1.2379 (D2) for a knife. They make legendary blades with spring steel that work in the most existential challenges one can imagine. I guess the point is made.

If I have created some interest in you, you can read a lot more on Gorkhali culture apart from the WWI "romanticism". And if you feel so inclined, you have a veritable chance to preserve their culture while doing something for literacy in Nepal: Buy a Bir Gorkha or similar Khukhuri fair-trade.
Of course, feel free to make a donation to help Gorkha out of the mess the earthquake (which was called the Gorkha Earthquake for a reason) left in Nepal, but I guess it will be more realistic you go ahead and buy one of those villager jewels.

But if you cannot afford one, roll your own, but pay them due respect. They deserve it.

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