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NEW DELHI: “Jai Maha Kali, Aayo Gorkhali! (Hail Goddess Kali, the Gorkhas are here!)”, or simply “Aayo Gorkhali Charge!” The spine chilling war-cry by soldiers, brandishing deadly inwardly-curving Khukris, is usually enough to scare the wits out of most adversaries on battlefields.
From full-blown wars to the frozen frontier of Siachen, from counter-insurgency operations to the long unresolved borders with China and Pakistan, the Indian Army’s Gorkha Rifles have deservedly earned their reputation as fearless large-hearted warriors, with a distinct fondness for a tot or two of “Rakshi” (dark rum) and living life for the moment.
It’s no wonder the country’s first Field Marshal Sam ‘Bahadur’ Manekshaw, himself a Gorkha Rifles officer, once remarked, “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gorkha.”
In the backdrop of the Gorkha Rifles having completed over 200 years of soldiering in India, the 9th GR is now culminating its bicentenary celebrations with a grand reunion and function at the 3&9 Gorkha Training Centre in Varanasi on Thursday and Friday.
Army chief General Bipin Rawat, who is from the 11th GR, will be the chief guest during the celebrations. Director-general of military operations, Lt-Gen Anil Kumar Bhatt, himself from the 9th GR, says, “Apart from earlier battles like the ones during World Wars I and II, the 9th GR has participated in all military operations after 1947 with honour and valour.”
Contrary to popular belief that the British East India Company was the first to recruit Gorkhas as soldiers, Army officers contend it was, in fact, Maharaja Ranjit Singh who raised a battalion of Gorkhas to serve in the Sikh Army around 1809-1814.
“Maharaja Ranjit Singh was impressed by the bravery of these big-hearted little men from the hills. All soldiers serving in the Indian Army are still called ‘Lahorey’ or ‘Lahure’ in Nepal or those who serve in Lahore, which was the capital of Ranjit Singh’s empire,” said a Colonel.
The British followed suit, raising the “Nusseree” Gorkha battalion at Subathu (Himachal Pradesh) in 1815 that later became the 1st GR. The first battalion of the 9th GR, in turn, was raised by the British in 1817 as the ‘Fatehgarh Levy’. There are about 32,000 Nepalese Gorkhas currently serving in the Indian Army’s seven GRs or regiments (1st , 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th and 11th), each of which has five to six battalions (around 800 soldiers each).
The 2nd, 6th, 7th and 10th regiments, in turn, went to the British Army after Independence in 1947, which have now been amalgamated into only one Gorkha regiment. “Almost 90% of our soldiers earlier used to hail from Nepal. Now, around 65% come from Nepal, with the rest coming from Darjeeling, Dehradun, Dharamshala and other places,” said an officer.
Though the Indian Army has a strength of almost 12 lakh, with 23 equally illustrious infantry regiments, the Gorkhas stand apart with their distinctively-tilted hats, khukris and never-say-die spirit. “They are wonderful troops who will follow you to the end of earth if they respect you,” said another officer.