"Gurkha" is not the name of an ethnic group but rather the name given those Nepalese nationals who serve in the British army. Gurkhas are drawn from a number of Nepalese ethnic groups including the Gurung (who contribute the greatest percentage of their population of all the groups), Magar, Tamang, Sunwar, Limbu, and Rai. Gurkhas claim Descent from the warlike Rajputs of Chittaur, in Rajasthan, saying they were driven thence to the Nepalese hills by the Muslim invasions. The Gurkha military tradition can be traced back to the sixteenth century when the kingdom of Gorkha was conquered by the first kings of the Shah Thakuri dynasty. By the end of the eighteenth century the Gurkha Kingdom, as it was then known, had expanded control over much of what is now Nepal and had begun pushing north into China and Tibet. Expansion south into India was resisted by the British (who were expanding northward), but in 1815 the Nepalese were defeated. The British were impressed by the Gurkhas and obtained permission to recruit them for the British-Indian Army. The recruits were organized into ethnic regiments and participated with distinction (on the government side) in the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58, the Second Afghan War (1878-1880), and the Boxer Rebellion (1900). By 1908 the 12,000 Gurkhas were organized into ten regiments as the Gurkha Brigade. During World War I and World War II the number of Nepalese military volunteers increased to more than 200,000 and additional units were formed. In 1947 the Gurkha Brigade was disbanded and since then various Gurkha units have served with the British army, the Indian army, the Nepal army, and the United Nations peacekeeping forces. Today, they are mainly used in the Crown Colony of Hong Kong (which will revert to China in 1997). With Britain's integration into Europe, Gurkhas are being phased out of the British army.
Gurkha veterans play a significant social and economic role in Nepalese society. They enjoy high status and are often elected community leaders, and the income from their pensions provides a steady source of cash for their families and communities. Nepalese working in India as watchmen are also sometimes referred to as Gurkha.
Vansittart, Eden, and B. V. Nicolay (1915). Gurkhās. Calcutta: Superintendent of Government Printing. Reprint. 1985. New Delhi: B. R. Publishing Corp.