Of Foreigners & their Blades

Throughout history natives have given names to foreign communities. These names are often derogatory, or just corrupt form of the appearance of people or their place of origins. Perhaps, these name offer a stronger sense of identity to the native community.

Over time, in the age of political correctness and civility, many such words have fallen out of favour and have been replaced by technical terms, that nevertheless, often refer to the place of origin.


By Mughal School [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

One such word that has somewhat survived and is still in used, is firangi. A word often used, generally to refer to a foreigner, and specifically used to refer to a person of Caucasian descent. I haven’t heard this pejorative used to refer to a foreigner who is not Caucasian. One of the popular theories of the etymological roots of the firangi is that it is a portmanteau of fika and rang — pale and colour — and therefore applies to Caucasians. Far from the truth.

Firangi derives from the Arabic word al-faranji. This word was used to refer to Franks (Germanic people who conquered Gaul in the 6th century and controlled much of western Europe for several centuries afterward), The Arabics derived the word from the Latin – Franci. The word came into being with the Crusaders, most of whom were Franks.

Around the 16th century, the word had gained a different distinction in India and lent meaning to weapons, rather than to refer to certain people. The Western Euopean sword-blade was finding favour with the Mughals and was called the firangi. However it was made popular by the Marathas, which they bought from the Portuguese. The Portuguese did not manufacture this blade however, they only imported and traded it. Therefore the use of the word firangi was still associated with Western Europe and not with the Portuguese. Interestingly,

The origin of the ethnic name [Frank] is uncertain; it traditionally is said to be from the old Germanic word *frankon “javelin, lance” (compare Old English franca “lance, javelin”), their preferred weapon, but the reverse may be the case. [Link]

Further, during the 16th century:

Syphilis was known in India as the Portuguese disease, or firanga or firangi roga, terms that identified it with the firangis (‘Franks’), or Europeans. According to historians, the disase was first recognised in India in 1498 after the arrival of Vasco-da-Gama, who had left Portugal in 1497.

It is perhaps due to the trade of the Marathas that the word has been strongly associated with the Portuguese, and it seems they referred to the commodity than the people. However, certain documents describe different names for various European traders in India:

Amongst the merchants the Portuguese (Firangi), the English (Ingraz), the Dutch (Valandaze), the French (Francese), the Danes (Dingmar) and hat wearing (Topikar) merchants carry on trade, and commerce.


  1. Dutta, Tarun Kumar, and Subhash Chandra Parija. Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases. New Delhi: Jaypee Brothers Medical Pub., 2013. 118. Print.
  2. Darpan, Mahesh. “पुर्तगाली-बंगाली एंथनी फिरंगी – Navbharat Times.” Navbharat Times. Navbharat Times, 5 May 2014. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.
  3. “Firangi (sword).” Wikipedia. 27 Nov. 2014. Web. 30 Nov. 2014. .
  4. Kadam, Umesh. “French-Maratha Relations: India in the 17th Century.” ResearchGate, 21 May 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

Bhawani: The Sword of Shivaji

An article in the Times of India from a few years ago, talks of Chhatrapati Shivaji’s Bhawani Sword  having originated in Toledo, Spain. This claim was supported (as a possibility) by none other than Babasaheb Purandare.

“Yes, it can be true because there has been documentary evidence to show that swords had been imported from Spain because of the quality of steel and the mastery of its workers in designing swords and knives,” confirms historian Babasaheb Purandare. According to Purandare, Shivaji possessed three swords which were named Bhawani, Jagdamba and Tulja. Via Desperately Seeking Shivaji’s Sword

Ninad Bedekar, however, casts doubts due the inscriptions on the sword.

What is the class (type) of the Bhawani sword?

According to S. N. Sen, the Bhawani sword is a Genoese blade and the firangi, a Toledo Blade. There is more information about the Bhawani sword being a Genoa blade.

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 16.46.56If you look at some of the old paintings of Shivaji, it seems that the sword on his right arm was a Patta or a Dandpatta, which has an integrated gauntlet. However, if we go by the description of the Bhawani in the text above, by Nick Evangelista, it could not have been a Patta. The existence of a spike, means that there could not have been a gauntlet.

AN01043315 001 l

Portrait of Shivaji; painting mounted onto an album folio. Inscribed. Album contains 26 paintings of Indian princes. Ink, opaque watercolour and gold on paper. Album bound in red leather and stamped on both covers with a central medallion, spine decorated with gold leaf. Interior cover marbled. Courtesy British Museum

There are many such images of Shivaji, that often depict a Dandpatta in the right hand and another sword in the left; which looks more like the firangi (which a straight blade).

There seem to be no specific references to a Toledo Sword or a Genoa sword — they always refer to them a the Toledo Blade or the Genoese Blade. Which makes sense because, according to this page in the Higgins Collection:

As European traders came to India in the 1500s and 1600s, they brought swords from the blademaking centers in Spain, Italy, and Germany. The blades of these swords were much admired in India, and some were fitted into Indian-made hilts. English swords were less respected: one Indian admiral of the 1600s remarked that English blades were “only fit to cut butter.”

So, while the blade itself was imported from either Spain or Italy, the class of the sword is an entirely different matter, because the sword was crafted locally. A distinction needs to be made between the blade and the sword, I suppose.

A sabre or Farang; slightly curved seventeenth century European steel blade stamped on each side with an Arabic inscription and chased on the right side with a crescent moon face; Indian iron basket hilt grip covered with purple and silver gilt cloth; flat circular pommel and curved spike. Green velvet covered wooden scabbard with chased gold mount and chape. Courtesy: Royal Collection Trust

A sabre or Farang; slightly curved seventeenth century European steel blade stamped on each side with an Arabic inscription and chased on the right side with a crescent moon face; Indian iron basket hilt grip covered with purple and silver gilt cloth; flat circular pommel and curved spike. Green velvet covered wooden scabbard with chased gold mount and chape. Courtesy: Royal Collection Trust

As regards the Jagdamba sword, it is commonly assumed (and accepted, I guess) that the Jagdamba was gifted to Edward VII, the Prince of Wales, during his visit to India. It’s a badly cropped image, so there is no way to clearly state that this is a straight blade or a curved one. The Trust makes no mention of the name of the sword. Also, on the page, there are images of two swords.

A look across various old illustrations of Shivaji, indicate the possibility of the Bhawani sword being a straight blade, and not a scimitar. Also, because I believe it is a gauntlet sword, there’s a good chance that it was a broadsword (double-edged).

Yet, in contemporary illustrations, it is shown as a talwar or a scimitar (curved blade). Are these representations of the Bhawani sword or the Jagdamba sword?

I’ll keep updating this page as I find new information. If you have anything to contribute, please suggest, using comments below.



  1. TNN. (2002, July 2). Desperately Seeking Shivaji’s Sword – The Times of India. Retrieved November 30, 2014, from http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/pune-times/Desperately-Seeking-Shivajis-Sword/articleshow/14790290.cms
  2. Sen, S. (1920). Siva Chhatrapati being a translation of Sabhasad Bakhar with extracts from Chitnis and Sivadigvijaya, with notes. (Vol. 1, p. 19). Calcutta: Univ. of Calcutta.
  3. Evangelista, N. (1995). The Encyclopedia of the Sword (p. 55). Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
  4. Pata (sword). (2014, November 29). Retrieved November 30, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pata_(sword)
  5. British Museum – Portraits of Indian Princes. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2014, from http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?assetId=135116&objectId=265601&partId=1
  6. Firangi (sword). (2014, November 27). Retrieved November 30, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firangi_(sword)
  7. Pata (gauntlet sword). (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2014, from http://www.higgins-collection.org/artifacts/1550
  8. Sabre. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2014, from http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/38023/sabre