FERINGHEE is an adaptation of the Indo Persian term frangi or firingi used to denote a person of European origin. It is dervied from Frank, “a member of a group of ancient Germanic peoples dwelling in the regions of the Rhine, one division of whom, the Salians, conquered Gaul [modern France so named after them] about AD 500.” Turks were the first Asian people to come in contact with Franks whom they called frangi, a name applied to all Europeans. Europeans who came to India following the arrival in 1498 at Calicut of Vasco de Gama, a Portuguese explorer, were also called Feringhees.
Niccolao Manucci, a Venetian adventurer who came to India about the middle of the seventeenth century and remained here for over half a century, records that Feringhee was a term of contempt and was used by the Indians for Europeans whom they despised. “The Hindus,” he says in his Storia do Mogor, “call all Europeans… in India by the name of Farangis, a designation so low, so disgraceful in their tongue, that there is nothing in ours which could reproduce it.” The first Sikh writer, poet in this instance, in whose works the word is found is Bhai Gurdas (d. 1636), but there it carries no derogatory implication. He, describing the infinite variety and diversity of peoples and creeds in the world, lists Feringhees along with Sunnis,Christians, Jews, Shiahs, infidels, Armenians, Romans, Sayyids, Turkomans, Mughals, Pathans, Negroes, black-clad monks and recluses.
It was only after the establishment of Sikh rule under Maharaja Ranjit Singh (1780-1839) that the common people came in actual touch with the Feringhees.They included Europeans employed by the Maharaja (at salaries and perquisites much higher than those given to the sons of the soil), Christian missionaries with religious conversion as their ultimate aim, and officers and diplomats of the British East India Company putting on airs as rulers of a great empire. The Sikhs generally regarded them with distrust and dislike and considered them as intruders. The pro British behaviour of most of them after the Maharaja`s death confirmed the people in their belief that the Feringhees were timeservers and enemies of the Khalsa. The antipathy continued until the British withdrawal from India in 1947, after which the word virtually fell into disuse.