My previous post on Forensic Science and Medico-Legal Jurisprudence, and how it reflects the practices of ancient times, was read and appended with a request to also give an example! So, here's a an example from the research I did in my college when I had the subject of Forensic Science.
Kautilya wrote the Arthashastra originally in Sanskrit. Later, it was translated to English by R. Shamasastry. Rudrapatna Shamasastry was a Sanskrit scholar and librarian at the Oriental Research Institute Mysore. He discovered and published the Arthashastra, an ancient Indian treatise on statecraft, economic policy, and military strategy. Thus, now we shall look at the provisions that Kautilya had provided, in the English translation for better understanding.
The seventh chapter in the fourth book of the treatise of Arthashastra deals with the concept of Criminal Investigation. Arthashastra specifies in great detail the modus operandi of criminals and criminal intentions or motives. It states very clearly and simply the various inferences that has to be drawn from the minutest clues left behind by perpetrators. Even, discretionary details that may vary highly from case to case has been rigidly dealt with by Kautilya in his treatise. For example, whether a death due to hanging was homicidal or suicidal, and whether the injuries were self inflicted or otherwise, were mentioned by Kautilya in the Arthashastra. He did not leave anything to the discretion of the examining officer to seal justice for the victim.
The first ten verses from this chapter of Arthashastra which deals with post mortem examination has been discussed below. Every point contains the original verse from the Arthashastra, the literal translation as provided by R. Shamasastry (in quotes and italics), and a small text from other supplementary readings from various sources that can help us understand the verse better.
1. “In cases of sudden death, the corpse shall be smeared over with oil and examined.”
It has been put down by Kautilya that it is required by the magistrate to conduct a post-mortem on any case of sudden or unnatural death after smearing the body with oil for the purpose of bringing out bruises, swellings and other injuries if any.
2. “Any person whose corpse is tainted with mucus and urine, with organs inflated with wind, with hands and legs swollen, with eyes open, and with neck marked with ligatures may be regarded as having been killed by suffocation and suppression of breathing.”
The essential symptoms of death due to asphyxiation or suppression of breathing as put down by Kautilya are swollen hands, feet or abdomen, sunken eyes and inflated navel. These pointers help in identification of a special case of unnatural death due to restraint in breathing.
3. “Any person with contracted arms and thighs may be regarded as having been killed by hanging. Any dead person with swollen hands, legs and belly, with sunken eyes and inflated navel may be regarded as having been killed by hanging.”
The symptoms of death by hanging has been identified as urine and faeces being thrown out, the skin of the abdomen being inflated with wind, swollen hands and feet, eyes being open or sunken, marks visible on the throat, apart from contacted arms and thighs.
4. “Any dead person with stiffened rectum and eyes, with tongue bitten between the teeth, and with belly swollen, may be considered as having been killed by drowning.”
The symptoms are generally protruding eyes or anus, bitten tongue and swollen abdomen for death by drowning due to the osmotic pressure of water and turgidity of bodily cells due to osmosis.
5. “Any dead person, wetted with blood and with limb, wounded and broken, may be regarded as having been killed with sticks or ropes.”
Symptoms for death succumbed when beaten with sticks or ropes are fractured body parts, muscles in spasm, and body being covered in blood.
6. “Any dead person with fractures and broken limbs, may be regarded as having been thrown down.”
The signs of death due to being hurled down from a height can be summed up as shattering of the bones of limbs and bursting of passage canals such as pharynx and oesophagus.
7. “Any dead person with dark coloured hands, legs, teeth, and nails, with loose skin, hairs fallen, flesh reduced, and with face bedaubed with foam and saliva, may be regarded as having been poisoned.”
During the time of this treatise and the time that followed, apart from the above mentioned signs, the other signs that were considered as an essential pointer towards death by poisoning was drooling, excessive tearing, low blood pressure or hypotension, and loss of muscle control and muscle twitching. Even factors such as loss of eyesight or retinal malfunction was considered important evidences in post mortem forensics.
8. “Any dead person of similar description with marks of a bleeding bite, may be considered as having been bitten by serpents and other poisonous creatures.”
The above mentioned symptoms along with signs that were considered for poisoning was duly looked for in cases of death by insect or snake bites also.
9. “Any dead person, with body spread and dress thrown out after excessive vomiting and purging may be considered as having been killed by the administration of the juice of the madana plant.”
After the dealings of post mortem, Arthashastra also enlightens on the tests to be carried out to confirm or cross check the results obtained from the post mortem of the victim.
A portion of the translated version of Arthashastra by R. Shamasastry reads:
“Death due to any one of the above causes is, sometimes under the fear of punishment, made to appear as having been brought about by voluntary hanging, by causing marks of ligature round the neck.In death due to poison, the undigested portion of meat may be examined in milk. Or the same extracted from the belly and thrown on fire may, if it makes ‘chitchita’ sound and assumes the rainbow colour, be declared as poisoned.Or when the belly (hridayam) remains unburnt, although the rest of the body is reduced to ashes, the dead man's servants may be examined as to any violent and cruel treatments they may have received at the hands of the dead. Similarly such of the dead man's relatives as a person of miserable life, a woman with affections placed elsewhere or a relative defending some woman that has been deprived of her inheritance by the dead man may also be examined.The same kind of examination shall be conducted concerning the hanging of the body of an already dead man.”
Therefore, there existed such methodical techniques through which the outcome of the post mortem test results could be verified with scientific and practical proof. There are many more such texts that talk about surgery, medicines, and other things- so, the scientific knowledge of the ancient times is still reflected in present day practices, though it may not be in the same form.
Hope you enjoyed reading it!