Sunday, 25 September 2016

Horrible execution by elephants - Pre-colonial India

Homo sapiens are intelligent animals, that is the reason why we have made so much progress in various fields since the dawn of civilization. When it comes to dealing with animals, being ingenious, as he is, man  has never failed to use them to his advantage -  to keep his life happy and safe. He has watch dogs to guard his house, horses for fun and riding, besides racing to make extra bucks. The list goes on. Man who has made vast progress in all fronts such as  science and teleology, military, etc. also made his foray in the field of giving punishments to the  criminals or captives. Electric chairs, lethal shots are some of his latest inventions. Perhaps there may be more.

However, in the past centuries, when monarchy was ruling the roost, man came up with all kinds of cruel methods to punish the criminals, thieves, traitors, etc. Among them, the most bizarre one is the use of jumbos to put a man out of life - a gory way of ending a man's life. It is much worse than the Guillotine invented by physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin (proposal was made  on 10 October 1789),  who himself became a victim. In this case, the death is sudden, in a jiff every thing is over.  Punishing a man with trained jumbo is something disgusting it  shows man's inherent cruel nature he inherited from his ancestors - the hominoids who are violent by nature in their habitat.
condemned prisoner being dismembered by an elephant in Ceylon. Illustration from An Historical Relation of the Island Ceylon by Robert Knox (1681).en.wikipedia.org

In India,  centuries ago, the practice of using elephants to punish criminals was in vogue.  Mention is made of such practices in Manu Smriti or Laws of Manu, written in 200 AD. It states that if there is theft, the thief should be punished by using elephants.
Execution by elephant was a common method of capital punishment followed by many kingdoms in South and Southeast Asia, particularly in India and such execution was public in nature. During the Mogul period, it was a common method of execution. Asian  elephants were skillfully used  to  kill criminals / traitors by way of crushing, dismembering, or torturing. When the Europeans came to India, and saw this gory punishment, it was simply an harrowing experience for them. This bizarre practice was suppressed by them during the colonial rule.

In the European continent, in particular, when the Roman were in power, Lions and bears were used as executioners. In the case elephants, they can be trained to execute captives  in a variety of ways. An elephant is trained to  prolong the agony of the victim by inflicting a slow death by torture or can cause quick death  by  stepping on the head. Emperor Akbar, it is recorded,  used the power of the elephants to chastise the captives and if they  were cooperative, their lives were spared.

In the Delhi Sultanate in 1305,  the execution of prisoners of Mongols was carried out on orders from the Emperor. It was done by trampling upon the victims by elephants in public.

Captain Alexander Hamilton, writing in 1727 mentioned that once Shah Jahan ordered an offending military commander  to be crushed to death by an elephant. He said it was a shameful act. Likewise Mogul ruler Humayun had an imam crushed to death by a jumbo. Reason: The  Imam was critical of his rule. For some Mogul rulers like Jahangir,  it was an  sort of live-entertainment to see men taken apart by the jumbos. The French traveler François Bernier noted with disapproval that some of the Muslim rulers derived immense pleasure out of such cruel punishment undergone by the captives. The Muslim traveler Ibn Battuta, visiting Delhi in the 1330s, mentioned at length about this cruel execution, using trained elephants by the Moguls. Some  Maratha  rulers as well used the elephants for punishing the criminals. Among the Indian rulers, there were many crazy rulers  who would throw the people to the jumbos just for a trifling offense. 
Louis Rousselet described this execution in Le Tour du Monde in 1868en.wikipedia.org

This practice of using jumbos  as a means to execute  victims continued until the 19th century. One Louis Rousselet on his expedition to India described  the execution of a criminal by elephants. He mentioned that the prisoner had to put his head on a pedestal where it was held firmly, then the elephant would crush the victim's head with his underfoot. 
Execution by elephant en.wikipedia.org
I myself remembering having read  several years ago in a book in which it was mentioned that  a 2 feet x by 2 feet pit up to a required death would be dug. The victim would be dropped in the pit with his head well exposed, the empty space in the pit would be packed with dirt and small stones. At last, a trained elephants would be commanded to crush the head. The dead victim would be left unattended for several days. Sometimes several victims would be executed in this fashion on the same day itself.
In Indonesia (earlier Siam)  and also in Burma (Myanmar) elephants are used as a means of capital punishment; also in the kingdom of Champa in Indonesia,  elephants were trained to throw the victim into the air before stomping them to death.

One John Crawfurd
British Ambassador in 1821in the kingdom of Cochinchina  (south Vietnam) witnessed the execution by elephants. Criminals  were tied up in the wood, and an elephant  would run  towards him and stomp him  to death.

As for the West, they were not far behind and in 
Roman, Carthage, and Greece Macedonia and other countries execution by elephants was in vogue. As many criminals, including war criminals, lost their lives under the feet of the jumbos as they were  by hanging.

Perdiccas, a merciless  leader in Macedonia,  was a sadist he had had punished 300  rebels by throwing them on the elephants, which just trampled their bodies to shreds.

According to a Roman writer Valerius Maximus,  General Lucius Aemilius Paul Macedonicus  had the soldiers trampled underfoot by elephants if there was a breach of discipline or rebellion.

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With the arrival of colonial rule in India, execution by elephants was done away with and many countries in SE Asia followed suit.

Ref:
https://medium.com/unique-and-culture/death-penalty-executions-conducted-by-elephant-54d851a081d1#.2jzcoqc5j
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Execution_by_elephantx