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Jayanta Bhattacharya

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The first disseion controversy
by Jayanta Bhattacharya   
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Last edited: Friday, December 09, 2011
Posted: Friday, December 09, 2011

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Jayanta Bhattacharya

Glimpses of History of Medicine in India: A Critical Appraisal
Arrival of Western Medicine, IJHS 2011, 46(1): 63-108
Bharate Janaswasthyer Nirman OAbinirman Ekak Matra
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It questions the prevailing idea around the first dissection in Calcutta Medical College in 1836. It destabilizes the fact that Madhusudan Gupta is credited as the first dissector.

The first dissection controversy: introduction to anatomical education
in Bengal and British India
 
Jayanta Bhattacharya
 
The history of Calcutta Medical College (CMC) is intertwined with the rise of rational scientific medicine in India. This new kind of medicine was premised on dissection-based anatomical knowledge and was secular in nature. The first dissection in CMC by a high-caste Hindu ushered in ramifications of this medicine into every aspect of Indian society. The singular act of dissection entailed indelible changes in the perception of body, disease and self of the Indian population. Medicine brought forth a new paradigm of knowing the body. Arguably, being the first Indian dissector, Madhusudan Gupta is historically tied up with this trans-formation of medicine.
 
The history of Calcutta Medical College (CMC), established on 28 January 1835, is inextricably intertwined with the rise of rational scientific medicine, otherwise widely accepted as ‘hospital medicine’, in India1. It is a new and unique phase in the evolution of medicine and has surpassed anything prevailing before it. Harrison traces medical developments within the armed forces of the East India Company. These developments ‘prefigured those normally associated with the
“birth” of clinical–anatomical medicine at the Paris hospitals in the 1790s’2. He also notes, ‘In Britain, the supply of  bodies for dissection was still severely  restricted, but there were no such constraints in the colonies, where cadavers were plentiful.’3
  At least until the 1830s, European medicine was primarily guided by symptomatology of the patient and six non-naturals of humoral theory. James Wallace wrote in his article ‘Observations on tropical fever’, ‘What then is to be done in case of miasmatic fever where blood-letting is prescribed … we must proceed until the secretions are healthy, until … to the evacuation of healthy bile’4 (pp. 270–293). Balfour5 argued, ‘The full change of the moon are no less remarkable for occasioning relapses than for the
first attack of bilious fevers.’ Despite
these medical theories, anatomical
knowledge and surgical excellence aris-
ing out of it ‘characterized the much-
boasted rationality and objectivity of
Western medicine’6. Annesley, More-
head and other writers of the period de-
rived their claims to scientific objectivity
and authority largely ‘from their studies
of morbid anatomy and their attempts to
relate the state of diseased internal 
organs examined after death to the symp-
toms manifested externally during life’6.
  F. J. Mouat clearly stated, 
 
When the case terminates fatally the
body will be examined by the Clinical
Clerk before the Professor, the morbid
changes noted, and the subject will be
taken into lecture room, and shown to
the assembled pupils, who will have
the whole history of the case and have
admirable means for the study of 
pathology and morbid anatomy. The
subject will never be lost sight of7.
 
Eventually, European surgical dexterity
produced awe for European medicine.
‘Hormasjee Bhicajee, a respectable na-
tive merchant and ship-builder, was in-
duced to lay aside prejudice, and submit
to the operation of lithotomy performed
by Dr Fogerty … The result of this and
other operations has led us to the conclu-
sion, that the natives of the country are
daily becoming more and more alive to
the benefit derived from the employment
of European skill in the treatment of dis-
eases.’8 The establishment of CMC and
involvement of an influential section of
natives clearly showed that the newly
emerging educated group in Calcutta
‘was prepared to overcome a deep-seated
prejudice to master Western science’9.
The first hospital was opened in Calcutta
early in 1708, concerning which Alexan-
der Hamilton, wrote, ‘The Company has
a pretty good hospital at Calcutta, where
many go in to undergo the Penance of
Physic, but few come out to give an 
account of its operation’10. By the end of
the century, however, the Calcutta Native
Hospital and three others were in exis-
tence in Calcutta. In such medical schools,
Hindu, Muslim and Anglo-Indian youths
were taught ‘Anatomy, Surgery, Practice
of Physic & C., and when properly quali-
fied, they receive appointments as Native
Doctors in different regiments, and 
at the principal stations’11. But practical
cadaveric dissection was yet to be 
taught.
  Against this perspective, the first dis-
section at CMC ushered in the rise of 
rational scientific medicine in India and
its subsequent journey to every conceiv-
able aspect of Indian public life.
Prelude to CMC: international 
and national scenario
The mid-18th century seems to have
been a key period in the official recogni-
tion of the need for the study of human
anatomy in Britain12. But the term ‘prac-
tical anatomy’ was not noted as a feature
of anatomy courses in the London hospi-
tals until 1802 (ref. 13). By that time
Paris had acquired much international
prestige as one of the most important
European centres for anatomy and sur-
gery. The study of anatomy in France,
Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and
Italy clearly scored over England14. 
Interestingly, in Great Britain, where the
forces of liberal constitutionalism and
social conservatism were least disturbed
by the currents of nationalism and revo-
lutionary change flowing in Europe, old
practices and arrangements in medicine
lingered much longer, especially in the
English universities15. The obstacles 
impeding the study of anatomy in England
were great and ‘the facilities presented to
the study in foreign countries are so
great’ that ‘principal resort is to Paris,
where 200 English students of Anatomy
are now pursuing their course of instruc-
tion’16. From 1833, 176 dissecting tables
were available in Paris (80 at the École
pratique and 96 at Clamart) enabling 
between 700 and 800 students to dissect
HISTORICAL NOTES
 
 8221CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 101, NO. 9, 10 NOVEMBER 2011
at one time17. Unlike their British coun-
terparts, French clinicians created fresh
models of medical science by exploring
their free access to patients’ bodies (liv-
ing and dead), and new physical and
conceptual tools for pathological investi-
gation18. Regarding dissection by students
in Edinburgh, it was observed, ‘the Stu-
dents must be allowed to get Dissection
where they best can; and their proficiency
might be ascertained, as in some of the
German Universities…’19 (emphasis added).
Moreover, ‘Instruction in pathological (or
even normal) anatomy with dissection was
not to be actually required before the mid-
1830s, on the eve of the era of microscopic
histopathology’20. During this period,
Southwood Smith, a close associate of Jer-
emy Bentham, emphasized, ‘The basis of
all medical and surgical knowledge is
anatomy … there can be no rational medi-
cine, and no safe surgery, without a thor-
ough knowledge of anatomy’21.
  To remember, CMC was founded after
the establishment University College of
London (UCL) in 1828. UCL was more
secular than orthodox institutions like
Oxford and Cambridge universities, and
basic sciences like chemistry, physics,
botany, geology, etc. were included in its
syllabus22. CMC was the first college in
Asia to be recognized by UCL.
  A utilitarian approach and the military
need to provide trained apothecaries,
compounders and dressers in different
detachments prompted the earliest offi-
cial involvement with medical education
in India. It would cost 100 pounds to
train a soldier23. On 9 May 1822, the
government laid down a plan for the in-
struction of up to 20 young Indians to fill
the position of native doctors in the civil
and military establishments of the Presi-
dency of Bengal. The outcome was the
establishment of the Native Medical 
Institution (NMI) in Calcutta (21 June
1822)24. In 1826, Breton wrote to Gil-
christ, ‘Native doctors became indis-
pensably necessary to afford medical aid
to the numerous detachments from corps
in the extensive dominion of India…’25.
It was also noted, ‘Though many medical
men obtain very considerable eminence
in their character as physician in Calcutta
and other presidencies, and no small
member turn the experience  which they
have acquired in India, to good account
at home…’26 (emphasis added). Military
need for native doctors and, conse-
quently, the importance of NMI was
hotly debated too27.
  Towards the end of 1833, a Committee
was appointed by the government of 
William Bentinck in Bengal to report on
the state of medical education and also to
suggest whether teaching of indigenous
system should be discontinued. The
Committee submitted a report on 20 
October 1834 and recommended that the
state found a medical college for the
education of the natives28. The various
branches of medical science cultivated 
in Europe were to be taught there. 
The Committee observed that the entire
omission of practical human anatomy in
the course of medicine had resulted in a
poor quality of medical students, who
would never be able to work at par with
the English doctors required in the battle
fields and for the governance of health of
the subjugated people to be disciplined.
There was warning note, ‘Nothing short
of the want of a sufficient annual supply
of well-educated surgeons, which would
be quickly followed by the most disas-
trous consequences in India …’29. Gov-
ernment reports categorically noted, 
‘The instruction differs from that of
Tytler (NMI), in as much as the subjects
are taught particularly, by the aid of the
Dissecting Room, Laboratory, and Hos-
pital’30. The NMI was abolished and 
the medical classes at the Sanskrit Col-
lege and Madrasa were discontinued 
by the Government Order of 28 January
1835 (ref. 31). Pundit Madhusudan
Gupta, who had taught medical courses
at the Sanskrit College, joined the 
new college. To note, this was also the
period of transition of mercantile capita-
lism to industrial capitalism in India,
guided by utilitarian and positivist phi-
losophy32.
  Specifically speaking, in the Indian
context, indigenous and Western systems
of medicine had been congruous until the
early 19th century33. But the introduction
of anatomical dissection, pathological
anatomy and other technological develop-
ments like stethoscope, thermometer, etc.
had created a gulf that was never to be
bridged. In 1807, Buchanan observed,
‘Medicine is taught by several of Pan-
dits, some of whom also, although they
are grammarians, practise the art … has
always been exclusively literary in char-
acter…and from oral  tradition’34. Ana-
tomical pathology or the perception of
three-dimensional mapping of the body
was completely absent. Interestingly,
Ram Mohan Roy perhaps pioneered the
introduction of anatomical education and
dissection in India. In 1822, Roy sent a
set of twelve ‘Hindu crania’ to George
Patterson of Edinburgh for phrenological
study35. ‘Dr Patterson presented to the
Society twelve Hindu crania … They all
appear to have belonged to adults, and
were selected by Ram Mohan Roy, a 
native of distinguished talent…’36.
The first dissection and 
controversies
Madhusudan Gupta (?1800–1856) is 
almost without exception given the credit
of the first dissector (? dissection on 10
January 1836). It was also Asia’s first
human dissection. According to some 
accounts, he was assisted by four coura-
geous pupils, Umacharan Set, Rajkrishna
De, Dwarakanath Gupta and Nabin
Chandra Mitra37. ‘This day will ever be
marked in the annals of Western medi-
cine in India when Indians rose superior
to the prejudices of their earlier educa-
tion and thus boldly flung open the gates
of modern medical science to their coun-
trymen (ref. 37, p. 12).’
  Madhusudan died of diabetic septice-
mia on 15 November 1856 (ref. 38). 
T. W. Wilson, the then Principal of 
the Medical College, wrote in the obi-
tuary:
 
To him a debt of gratitude is due by
his countrymen. He was the pioneer
who cleared a space in the jungle of
prejudice, into which others have suc-
cessfully pressed, and it is hoped that
his countrymen appreciating his exam-
ple will erect some monument to 
perpetuate the memory of the victory
gained by Muddoosoodun Gooptu over
public prejudice, and from which so
many of his countrymen now reap the
advantage. The place of Muddoo-
soodun Goopta has been filled up 
by Sub-Assistant Surgeon Tameez
Khan, a Native of intelligence and
promise39.
 
Another report from the Bengali journal
Sambad Bhaskar (22 November 1856)
mentions:
 
We feel profoundly sad for Gupta
Babu’s demise. Madhusudan Babu was
the pioneer of the dissector artisans of
this country. To the Indian people, 
especially Hindus, touching the dead
body is an abominable question, better
HISTORICAL NOTES
 
CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 101, NO. 9, 10 NOVEMBER 2011  1229
not to say anything of dissection …
yet, on entering Medical College, he
was the first amongst the Hindus to be
engaged in the act of dissection. His
precedence has encouraged other Hin-
dus to become adept in sundry acts of
dissection that Babu has taught them40
(my translation).
 
Arnold comments, ‘the momentous event
(the first dissection) was duly celebrated,
in rather militaristic fashion, by firing a
fifty-round salute from the guns of Cal-
cutta Fort William’41. A few questions
come up here. First, why was the case of
the first human cadaveric dissection so
much important to the British authority
almost to the extent of military victory?
Second, why has Madhusudan been
given so much importance by colonial
officials and historians as well as the
enlightened Bengali people?
  Though, beyond the scope of this 
essay, I would like to emphasize that the
division between military and civil doc-
tors as well as the division between phy-
sician and surgeon were successfully
resolved to a great extent in India, espe-
cially through the practices in CMC. It
was not readily possible in firmly en-
trenched orthodoxy and well-defined
church–state relations of Victorian Eng-
land. Only with the opening of the UCL
did the character of English medical edu-
cation begin to change slowly, but to this
day it bears many traces of the old order22.
Dissection of a cadaver by any high-
caste Indian was the first phenomenal
step in the direction of modern medical
education. It is perhaps one of the rea-
sons why so much importance is attached
to the first dissection and the individual
dissector. In 1847, in a letter to the editor
of Lancet, H. H. Gooedeve42 wrote:
 
The most important blow which has
yet been struck at the root of native
prejudices and superstition, was ac-
complished by the establishment of the
Medical College of Calcutta, and the
introduction of practical anatomy as a
part of the professional education of
Brahmins and Rajpoots, who may now
be seen dissecting with an avidity and
industry which was little anticipated
by those who know their strong reli-
gious prejudices upon this point
twenty years since.
 
Earlier, John Fryer compared Europeans
with ‘Exotick Plants brought home to us,
not agreeable to the Soil’43. From 
the position of ‘Exotick Plants’ modern
medicine had to be internalized by 
the Indians. ‘There is no more effective
mode of wining the heart of a 
people than by relieving their bodily ail-
ments’44.
  A good amount of preparatory work
was going on for quite a long time in
Alexander Duff’s school in Calcutta. 
Before the commencement of the dissec-
tion, the Apothecary General (John
Grant) approached Duff’s students on
this dreaded subject. The Commissioner
asked, ‘would you actually be prepared
to touch a dead body for the study of
anatomy?’ ‘Most certainly,’ said the
head youth of the class, who was a
Brahman. He also unequivocally asserted,
‘I, for one, would have no scruples in the
matter. It is all prejudice, old stupid
prejudice of caste, of which I at least
have got rid.’ The others heartily chimed
in with this utterance. The commission-
ers were highly gratified45.
  Now, the supposedly first dissection
by Madhusudan can be comprehended.
Goodeve, while delivering lectures in
1848, remarked: 
 
in less than two years from the founda-
tion of the college, practical anatomy
has completely become a portion of
the necessary studies of the Hindu
medical students as amongst their
brethren in Europe and America. The
practice of dissection has since ad-
vanced so rapidly that the magnificent
rooms erected four years since, in
which upwards of 500 bodies were
dissected and operated upon in the
course of last year, now amounting to
upwards of 250 youths of all … reli-
gions, and castes … as the more homo-
geneous frequenters of an European
school46.
 
Another report (‘Bengal Medical Col-
lege’) mentions47: 
 
From the annual report of this valuable
institution, for the session 1850–51, it
appears that the number of bodies re-
ceived for dissection and operation in
the winter session, amounted to 722:
of this, the number of bodies actually
dissected was 501; the number used
for operation 92; used in the examina-
tion, 23; for lectures, 38; and those of
which no use was made, in conse-
quence of rapid putrefaction, 68.
The same report informs that the number
of students attending the anatomical
classes was 73, which was highest com-
pared to the students attending other
classes like medicine, surgery, botany,
midwifery, etc.
  How did Duff’s Brahman students and
those of the Hindoo College stand the
test when the hour came for the first dis-
section? ‘That hour came after the first
six months’ study. The time was then 
recalled when the medical class in the
Hindoo College met for the first cutting
up of a kid, and the college gates were
closed to prevent popular interruption of
the awful act!’ (ref. 48, pp. 217–218).
Obviously enough, the act of dissection
was not greeted by the orthodox Hindu
community. They were vociferous against
the establishment of a Medical College
intended to further anatomical education
through dissection. ‘The protest was dis-
regarded; the Medical College of Cal-
cutta was opened on the 1st June, 1835.
The first demonstration by dissection
caused great anxiety. The College gates
were closed to prevent forcible interrup-
tion of that awful act’49. Sivanath Shas-
tri50 also refers to the tumultuous state of
society following the dissection. Consid-
ering all these facts, it appears quite 
improbable that the first dissection was
greeted with gun-salute.
  In the first year of dissection, there
were only 20 bodies available. ‘This was
due in the first instance to a virtually
unlimited supply of cadavers. From the
humanitarian viewpoint this was a regret-
table situation, but the fact is that the 
Indian medical student was at an advan-
tage over his counterparts in Europe and
America’51. It was reported in the Lon-
don Medical Gazette52, ‘It is deserving of
mention, that from the month of Novem-
ber, 1846, to that of March, 1847, being
a period of only five months, nearly 500
bodies had been dissected by the native
students, – an astonishing  number, when
the prejudice to be overcome is consid-
ered’. Eatwell reported, ‘472 bodies have
been distributed to the English class for
dissections; 549 to the Secondary Classes
for the same purpose; 110 bodies have
been devoted to illustrating Lectures on
Anatomy, 56 for Lectures on Operative
Surgery’53. The total number of bodies
dissected stood at an amazing figure of
1187! Contrarily, in Richardson’s esti-
mate, bodies taken under the Anatomy
Act (the first ten years’ sources from
1832–33 to 1841–42 in London hospitals
HISTORICAL NOTES
 
 0321CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 101, NO. 9, 10 NOVEMBER 2011
only) are – 135, 141, 194, 206, 184, 209,
156, 168, 178 and 110 respectively54.
Buckland55 noted:
 
… in the centre of the native town,
where it was usual for Hindus to bring
their dead for cremation, but where a
large proportion of the corpses, instead
of being burnt, were either at once
thrown into the river, or consigned for
dissection to the Medical College hos-
pital, to be afterwards disposed of in
the same way’ (emphasis added).
 
In commemoration of Madhusudan’s
feat, Drinkwater Bethune, in 1850, pre-
sented to the college a portrait of Mad-
husudan painted by Mrs Belnos. On that
occasion, Bethune gave an emotional 
account full of rhetoric: 
 
At the appointed hour, scalpel in hand,
he followed Dr Goodeve into the
Godown where the body lay ready.
The other students deeply interested in
what was going forward but strangely
agitated with mingled feelings of curi-
osity and alarm, crowded after them,
but durst not enter the buildings where
this fearful deed was to be perpe-
trated … t hey peeped through the
jilmils, resolved at least to have ocular
proof of its accomplishments. And
then Madhusuden’s knife, held with a
strong and steady hand, made a long
and deep incision in the breast, the
lookers-on drew a long gasping breath,
like men relieved from the weight of
some unbearable suspense56.
 
This story is of pivotal importance to
Jogesh Chandra Bagal – the first Bengali
biographer of Madhusudan. Gorman too
accepts this account, though, to him, the
date is 28 October 1836 (ref. 51; p. 284).
Bramley, the first Principal of CMC,
gives an altogether different account: 
 
On that day (28 October 1836), which
may be regarded as an eventful era in
the annals of the Medical College, four
of the most intelligent and respectable
pupils, at their own solicitation, under-
took the dissection of the human sub-
ject, and in the presence of all the
professors of the College and of four-
teen of their brother-pupils, demon-
strated with accuracy and nicety,
several of the most interesting parts of
the body, and thus was accomplished,
through the admirable example of
these four native youths, the greatest
steps in the progress towards true civi-
lization … At the first attempt, all their
companions present assisted, and it
was delightful to witness the emulation
amongst them, in displaying their will-
ingness to recognize the importance of,
and adopt a mode of study hitherto
contemplated with such honour by
their own countrymen57 (emphasis
added).
 
Further, he notes, ‘A large portion of the
class had already witnessed with 
interest the examination of bodies which
had died in the hospitals they visited (ref.
57, p. 54)’.
  Dissection is seldom approached by
the uninitiated even in Europe without
the feeling of aversion. As a result,
Bramley was initially in a fix whether
such sensitive feelings ‘should operate to
alarm or discourage them from the pur-
suit which constituted the vital part of
the desired innovation’ (ref. 57, p. 54).
He adds, ‘It was moreover necessary to
conduct the dissection with due regard to
secrecy, as the students were naturally
enough exceedingly averse to being ex-
posed to the gaze  of intruders … ’  (ref.
57, p. 54; emphasis added). A rigid ob-
servance of all these precautions, how-
ever, was all that was necessary to ensure
success. Since that time dissections had
been regularly practised in all the senior
classes with one solitary exception.
Bramley sincerely wanted to reward
those brave boys ‘for the industry and
moral courage of the students who have
thus more especially distinguished them-
selves’. Finally, failing to reward these
students, his despair became evident,
‘were their names brought to the notice
of Government in the present report; but
the same reason which induces them to
conceal their anatomical labours, and the
probable publicity of this document, 
forbids my making the disclosure’ (ref.
57, p. 55).
  More than six decades later, R. Have-
lock Charles, Professor of Surgical and
Descriptive Anatomy, Medical College,
Calcutta, and Surgeon of the Hospital,
gave a detailed account of this feat in
1899. He remembered, ‘The most inter-
esting feature is that in 1835 the Hindu
prejudice against touching dead bodies
first gave way, and much credit must be
given to the original class of eleven stu-
dents who had the courage to break
through the iron bonds of caste, and 
engage in the dissection of the human
body’58. He thought it but morally right
to mention the names of the students of
that first class that studied human anatomy
in India. Here, we find a striking note of
similarity between Bramley and Charles.
In his observations, the reasons were: 
 
First, to honour those who, throwing
aside the trammels of prejudice, with-
stood firmly the strong moral pressure
brought to bear on them by the out-
raged feelings of a kindred whose 
customs are the type of a crystallised
conservatism; and, secondly, that 
although I835 is not so very long ago, –
these men have practically been for-
gotten, and the honour of having been
“the first Hindu who dissected the hu-
man body” has been given to Pandit
Madusudden Gupta, who for good
work as a demonstrator of anatomy
had his portrait in oils presented to the
Anatomical Department, where it
hangs at present in the lecture-room’
(ref. 58, pp. 840–841).
 
He summarily stated, ‘The Pandit passed
his examination in 1840, and – as I write,
I have a copy of his diploma before me.
The students whose names I have men-
tioned were examined and passed in
1838, yet the Pandit alone is remem-
bered; his predecessors are forgotten.
Vixere fortes ante Agamemnona!’ (ref.
58, pp. 841–844).
  By comparing these accounts we are
confronted with a few questions. First,
being the first principal, Bramley’s 
account is probably more objective and
faithful to the details of the momentous
act. Second, there is mention of Mad-
husudan Gupta only once in his report.
Regarding teaching of his students,
Bramley reports, ‘He is closely ques-
tioned on the general meaning of the
whole; observations are introduced by
the instructor, as occasion offers, and the
opinions of the Pundit and Native teacher
(both of whom are practitioners of high
repute amongst their countrymen) are
canvassed as to the prevalence’ (ref. 57,
p. 58). Third, the date of the first dissec-
tion, uncritically accepted as 10 January
1836, is not supported by the GCPI 
report. It appears to be 28 October 1836.
Fourth, regarding the feat, Charles, as
cited above, provides a different, yet
convincing, argument before us.
  While writing Madhusudan’s biogra-
phy, Bagal confesses, ‘Excepting that of
HISTORICAL NOTES
 
CURRENT SCIENCE, VOL. 101, NO. 9, 10 NOVEMBER 2011  1231
Madhusudan, I deem all the words of
Bramley more authentic than Bethune in
all regards’59. Moreover, he states, ‘This
act of dissection was of so much impor-
tance that guns were fired from the Fort
William of Calcutta. Although it was not
mentioned in contemporary journals and
newspapers, people boastfully talk of this
incident since then due to its wide preva-
lence and acceptance’ (ref. 59, p. 58;
emphasis added).
  We shall now look into the evidence
given by Madhusudan himself before the
General Committee of the Fever Hospital
and Municipal Improvements (GCFHMI)
on four occasions – 27 February to 29
May 1837 at the Town Hall, Calcutta,
barely one year after the momentous act
of dissection. The Committee’s note for
the first day’s evidence reads thus –
‘First Day, Madoosoodun Gooptu,
Koberuttun, before Municipal Enquiry,
2nd Sub-Committee, 27 February 1837’.
In his evidence, Madhusudan candidly
tells about himself:
 
I have practiced Medicine in Calcutta
for twelve years among the Native
Population. I was educated in the San-
skrit and English College for six years,
where I afterwards became professor
of Sanscrit medicine. Before I entered
the college, I had been taught the 
native system of medicine under
Kableeram Kobeeraze, a learned native
doctor, under whose instructions I also
visited patients in villages. During my
studies at the Sanscrit College I 
attended for five years the lectures of
Dr Tytler and Dr. Grant upon anatomy
and the theory and practice of medi-
cine and surgery … It is now two years
since I left the college, and at present I
am pundit of the Medical College,
where I assist the professors, Drs
Goodeve and O’Shaughnessy, in 
explaining to the students the branches
which have formed the subject of their
prelections. After lecture is over, I 
explain the names of the diseases in
Bengalee, and the qualities of native
medicines according to my experience.
As a practitioner of medicine, my 
experience has been obtained among
the respectable, the middle, and the
poorer classes of natives…60.
 
Next, he gives a comprehensive descrip-
tion of his family and residence and what
type of practice he does amongst the 
local population, etc. Finally, he switches
over to the exposition of indigenous
practices of midwifery, the scope of im-
provement of public health and sanitary
conditions of Calcutta municipality, etc.
It is very unlikely to conceive of the fact
that a personal achievement of such his-
torical importance would not find any
place in his testimony. In his evidence,
he specifically talks about his job as the
translator of English lectures, without
mentioning for once the event of dissec-
tion.
  It may be mentioned that Roberton,
while writing on ‘Hindu Midwifery’, 
adduces Madhusudan’s full report only
to compare Hindu midwifery with the
European one, and nothing more61.
  Without more thorough study into this
sub-layer of history of medicine, it would
be too hasty to affirmatively accept or
deny the role of Madhusudan as the first
dissector in India. It can be extrapolated
that with his background training Mad-
husudan was ready to bear the onus of
dissection to the extent of ostracism,
even if not the first dissector. Moreover,
though coming from an upper caste
Hindu family, he had the courage to
swim against the stream of social preju-
dice and provide relevant proofs of dis-
section from Sanskrit Āyurvedic texts.
Conclusion
However, contradictory evidences do not
belittle the position of Madhusudan in
the history of modern anatomical knowl-
edge in India. The singular act of intro-
duction of dissection-based anatomical
knowledge in medical education brought
forth some indelible changes in the per-
ception of body, disease and self of the
Indian population. This scientific break-
through had also enormous sociological
consequences. It opened the door of
Western medicine to the natives of India
as practitioners and beneficiaries. It 
reconstituted ‘psychologized’ epistemo-
logy of the Indian knowledge system in
the mould of objective, value-neutral,
clinical detachment of modern medicine.
As dissection became the primary means
to know the human body, the living body
was regarded as a kind of ‘animated
corpse’. The dissector/doctor claimed the
status of an epistemologically privileged
cultural arbiter on the question of death
and dying62. In colonial India, unlike
England, this education produced ‘capa-
ble practitioners’ instead of ‘capable 
enquirers and practitioners’. But the act
of dissection brought Calcutta on the
same footing with London. ‘At present
hundreds of dead bodies are daily dis-
sected in London and Calcutta, and new
discoveries are constantly being made’63.
  The study of modern anatomy recon-
stituted: (a) hitherto existing notion of
disease and non-disease; (b) science and
reason vis-à-vis tradition and supersti-
tion; (c) physicians and non-physicians,
and (d) social hierarchy between modern
medical practitioners and all other indi-
genous practitioners64. The lived experi-
ence of the body became a measurable
and repairable phenomenon. The body
became a three-dimensional space
(unlike two-dimensional Āyurvedic bod-
ily frame through which dosa-s,  dhātu-s
and  mala-s  flow). The role of ‘divine’
was banished forever. Medicine in India
was all set for this new paradigm of
knowledge and knowing the body.
  Āyurveda conceptualizes biogeogra-
phy to be absorbed into therapeutics;
man (microcosm) is seen to be in har-
mony with nature (macrocosm). Comple-
tely departing from the Āyurvedic notion
of health, the notion of modern public
health began to be premised on the divi-
sion between (inside) ‘anatomical space’
and (outside) ‘environmental space’ or
nature. Consequently, in this conceptu-
alization, ‘environmental space’ or 
nature becomes an area to be aggressed,
controlled and utilized only for man.
Man becomes the master of everything.
Herein remains the importance of the in-
troduction of anatomical knowledge in
colonial India. Madhusudan Gupta is his-
torically tied up with this process of
transformation of medicine.
 
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HISTORICAL NOTES
 
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the People of India, Longman, Orme,
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32.  For insightful discussion see, Stokes, E.,
The English Utilitarians and India, Ox-
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(eds Pati, B. and Harrison, M.), 
Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2005, pp.
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Roy, expressing his eagerness to send
more skulls if needed, was read out be-
fore the Society.
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Centenary Committee, Calcutta, 1935,
pp. 11–12.
38.  Bose, D., Indian J. Hist. Sci., 1994,
29(1), 31–40.
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40.  Bandyopadhyay, B. N. (ed.), Sambad-
patre Sekaler Katha, Bangiya Sahitya
Parishad, Kolkata, 1996, vol. 2, p. 698.
41.  Arnold, Colonizing the Body, p. 6, Also
see, Gupta, B., In Asian Medical Sys-
tems: A Comparative Study (ed. Leslie,
C.), Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, 1998,
pp. 368–378.
42.  Goodeve, H. H., Lancet, 1847, I, 190.
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and Persia, in Eight Letters. Being Nine
Years Travels, Begun 1672. And Fin-
ished 1681, Ri. Chriswell, London, 1698,
p. 69.
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State of British India, Sampson Low,
Son, & Co, London, 1862, p. 240.
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A. C. Armstrong & Son, New York,
1879, vol. I, pp. 214–216.
46.  Centenary Volume, p. 14.
47.  Lancet, 1851, 2, 216.
48.  Smith, G., Life of Alexander Duff, 1879,
vol. 1, pp. 217–218.
49.  Bose, P. N., A History of Hindu Civiliza-
tion, W. Newman & Co., Calcutta, 1894,
vol. II, p. 32.
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Bangasamaj (ed. Ghosh, B. B.), New
Age, Kolkata, 2007, p. 105.
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1988, 132(3), 276–298.
52.  London Med. Gazette (New Ser.), 1847,
5, 126–127.
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54.  Richardson,  Death, Dissection and the
Destitute, p. 293.
55.  Buckland, C. E., Bengal under the Lieu-
tenant-Governors; Being a Narrative of
the Principal Events and Public Meas-
ures during their Periods of Office, from
1854 to 1898, S. K Lahiri & Co, Cal-
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the Bengal Presidency, from 1835 to
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64.  Indian Med. Gazette, 1 April 1868,  p. 87.
 

 

 

 

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