The Legacy of Madhusudhan Gupta: A Distinguished Bengali Doctor in the Field of Human Dissection

The old Kolkata was known for the revolution of science and technology. This city was witness to several milestones, one of which was human dissection.

The year was 1822 when the first Native Medical Institution was established in Kolkata and Dr. Madhushudan Goopta, a Bengali medical practitioner, joined as the head of the institution.

Madhusudan Gupta (1800-1856) hailed from a high family. He joined the newly created Ayurvedic classes in Sanskrit College, Calcutta in 1926 and was promoted to the post of a teacher in the same medical college in view of his great interest and enthusiasm.

He was the first man who dissected cadavers in 1936 and created a sensation in the orthodox Hindu Society. Madhusudan made a consistent effort the improvement of medical science in India.

Defying the ancient prejudice, Gupta carried out the dissection work on a dead body with the assistance of four students who were Rajkrishna Dey, Umacharan Sett, Dwarkanath Gupta, and Nabin Chandra Mitra.

What is Human Dissection?

Plant and animal bodies are dissected to analyze the structure and function of their components. Dissection is practiced by students in courses of biology, botany, zoology, and veterinary science, and sometimes in art studies. In medical schools, students dissect human cadavers to learn anatomy. McLachlan, John C.; Patten, Debra (17 February 2006).

Dissection is used to help to determine the cause of death in an autopsy (called necropsy in other animals) and is an intrinsic part of forensic medicine. Australian Museum. Retrieved 

Dissection (from Latin dissociate “to cut to pieces”; also called anatomization) is the dismembering of the body of a deceased animal or plant to study its anatomical structure.

Consequently, dissection is typically conducted in a morgue or in an anatomy lab.

What was the story behind Asia’s First Human Dissection?

This was a period of turmoil in Indian society as a whole. Dissection was a taboo in India at that time. Due to native prejudices and superstitions, it was impossible to cultivate a cadaver, be it a human body or a carcass.

This was the time when social evils like female infanticide, sati pratha, child marriage, polygamy, caste system, purdah, a ban on female education, widow re-marriage, etc. thrived. Religious superstitions and social obscurantism were also prevalent across the country. 

The momentous event was duly celebrated and a 50-round gun salute was fired from Calcutta’s Fort William. It was also Asia’s first human dissection. Renowned educator, mathematician, and polyglot, John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune wrote:

“All the entry and exit gates of Medical College were locked well in advance to prevent conservative natives from perpetrating any untoward incident within the premises of the college.” From this observation, it is clear that the situation in the city at that time was not at all conducive to this historic event.

Gupta developed diabetes mellitus and following a dissection, contracted an infection that led to gangrene of his hands. He subsequently died of septicemia on 15 November 1856. 

Controversies on First Human Dissection:-

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 dying.

In colonial India, unlike England, this education produced ‘capable practitioners’ instead of ‘capable enquirers and practitioners’.

But the act of dissection brought Calcutta on the same footing as London. ‘At present hundreds of dead bodies are daily dissected in London and Calcutta, and new discoveries are constantly being made.

Man becomes the master of everything. Herein remains the importance of the introduction of anatomical knowledge in colonial India. Madhusudan Gupta is historically tied up with this process of transformation of medicine.

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