Understanding the genealogy of the word ‘Gorkha’

The justification for better understanding  of the issue pertaining to the Gorkhas in India cab be well justified, if not completely, by trying to understand their massive, intricate and compound history which had its roots engraved mainly in the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal. The history of the Gorkhas is not merely composite and colossal but nevertheless entangled with the history of Sikkim and Bhutan as well. Gorkha identity gains much importance, and at times, turns into an important and critical topic for intellectual discussions, and speculations for the general masses. One of the frequently observed squabbles and controversies encompassing the issue of ethnic movements at national and international platforms have been the historical subject matter relating to the ethnic groups, their culture, their regional boundaries , their identity and rights, recognitions, belongingness and authenticity. The struggle of the Gorkhas is seen as one such case.

The construction of ethnic identity is not a matter of fortnight but has a historical process of its own. The usage and its authenticity lie with time and circumstances. The foremost important move towards understanding the issue of the Gorkha ethnic identity lies by referring to the concise history of Nepal at first hand where the word and the dawn of a martial race precisely and undoubtedly had its derivation from. As such, the inclusion of the history of Nepal becomes inevitable while dealing with the question of ethnic and cultural similarity of the hill people as ‘Gorkhas’.

The early hours of Nepal’s history cannot be accurately stated as it is, if not completely, believed to be intertwined with various mythologies making more difficult in differentiating facts from myth. Nevertheless, modern Nepal as it stands today has been the end result of the eighteenth century ruler Prithvinarayan Shah who dared to envisage bringing to reality his dream of ‘Greater Nepal’ (though at present the concept of Greater Nepal can be highly debatable, subject to critical scrutiny).  The history of the Shah cannot be undermined as it principally credited for being the forbearers of the word ‘Gorkha’.

Historically, the geographical seats have much affiliation in unfolding and asserting people’s identity, culture and ethnicity. The cradle for the Gorkha nomenclature has been derived from a small principality in west of Nepal called ‘Gorkha’. The land came to be known by the name due to the installation of an idol of Goraknath by a Nath Yogi. The word also has a derivation from Tibeto- Burman word ‘Garkha’ meaning cluster of villages or yet another word ‘kharka’ meaning grasslands. Irrespective of the various derivations and linkages, the term with the ‘Gorkhanath idol’ has gained much parlance. Though the choice of version may yet differ.

The successful propagation of Gorkha nomenclature has been due to three reasons. The foremost being the military expansionist policy of the Gorkha rulers where they conquered and annexed regions further west of Nepal such as Kumaon and Gharwal and to the east, the Kirat lands who share a close border with Sikkim. As a result Gorkha cultural and political hegemony became predominant. The unification by the Shah ruler brought the fragment, petty principalities into one concrete nation which we now identity as Nepal. Secondly, the Anglo-Nepalese war of 1814-1816 accredited the Gorkha soldiers as a martial race. The Gorkha’s intrinsic worth was perceived to be a greater threat and nuisance on the part of the British which the latter after the war brought to their side for defending their legitimacy and dominance over the Indian Lands. Lastly and most importantly, it is the hundred years old Gorkha ethnic  movement in Darjeeling hills which has grasped the attention of the multiple political parties at regional and national level. The research agendas, intellectual forums and public debates have well incorporated broadened and aided for the promulgation of the subject matter.

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