On In History & Culture

Who Are The Gorkhas And Why Do They Wear Their Hats Unconventionally?

As a 90’s kid growing up, one of the fondest memories was to tune into DD National on every 26th January and 15th August and witness the marvel of the parade which used to happen (it still does) at Rajpath, New Delhi. That was a time when our very own ‘Missile Man’, Late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam was lighting the nation with his wings of fire, and it was an amazing sight seeing so many army soldiers marching in unison, followed by a showcase of missiles. While we were too little to identify the army battalions, the rise of prominence of one particular battalion was impressive, to say the least.Yes, we are talking about the Gorkha regiments. Wait, you don’t know about them? No problem, here’s your guide to knowing them.

Who are the Gorkhas?

The first Indian Army field marshal Sam Manekshaw called it correctly when he said, “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he either is lying or is a Gorkha.” The Gorkha soldiers are traditionally native to mountainous regions of India and are trained to be one of the most fierce, feared and fearless regiments in the Indian Army.

History

During the Anglo-Nepalese war which lasted between 1814-16, Sir David Ochterlony was so impressed with the Gorkha Regiment that he wanted to have his own regiment containing soldiers of such fine quality and this regiment was later known as 1st King George’s Own Gurkha Rifles.

What’s so special about them?

As mentioned previously, they are known for their bravery and fearlessness. They are known to strike terror into the hearts of the enemies, and their personal weapon is as unique of a weapon as it gets.

Personal Weapon

Yes, they have a personal weapon which they carry by themselves, and it is called as a ‘Kukri’. It is a 12-inch long curved knife and can be found with every Gorkha rifle personnel. Not only that, but the Kukri is also embedded in their badges and attested on the uniform.

What are their major achievements?

Currently, the Indian Army has over 40,000 Gorkha soldiers in 42 different battalions of 7 regiments. One of the most famous platoons of Gorkhas, 1/11 Gorkha Rifles is one of the most decorated with 11 Vir Chakras, 2 Maha Vir Chakras, 3 Ashok Chakras and 1 Param Vir Chakra. So why does one of the most decorated battalions wear their hat in a wee bit of an unconventional manner?

Why do they wear a strap under their lip?

The traditional explanation states that because Gorkha people belong to the mountainous regions and are hence very talkative, the strap on their lower lip reminds them of their duties and to carry it without talking much.

Is there any other explanation?

There is another theory which states that because Gorkhas are specialists in mountain warfare, the design of the strap helps them to navigate the difficult terrain without many hassles as the strap is below the lip rather than on the neck. But surely there must be another more practical reason, right?

Any practical reason?

Yes, there is an advantage in wearing the strap below the lower lip as compared to wearing it on the neck as when a strap is worn on the neck, the opponent can easily sneak in behind and choke the person courtesy of the placement of the strap but when it’s done below the lower lip, that risk is prevented.

Do any other battalions do it?

Yes, there are many battalions which do it and not only Indian but also many battalions belonging to other armies. In the photo, we can see North Korean soldiers doing so.

Here are the Queen's soldiers

Here we can see the Queen's soldiers, all of them wearing the strap below the lip rather than on the neck. See? It's not that uncommon.