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  India   All India  06 Feb 2017  Saga of Odisha’s 19th century conjoined twins revealed

Saga of Odisha’s 19th century conjoined twins revealed

Published : Feb 6, 2017, 6:26 am IST
Updated : Feb 6, 2017, 6:58 am IST

The twins — named Radhika and Doodica — were given secret burials.

The twins — named Radhika and Doodica — were given secret burials in France after they died hours after separation surgery.
 The twins — named Radhika and Doodica — were given secret burials in France after they died hours after separation surgery.

Bhubaneswar: An Odisha historian has unravelled the sorry tale of the state’s first known Siamese twins (conjoined twins) who were taken abroad in 1893, inducted into a circus troupe, underwent separation surgery in France and finally died in foreign land.

The twins — named Radhika and Doodica — were given secret burials.

According to renowned historian and researcher Anil Dhir, the twins were born in 1888 to Khestra Nayak of Haopara village in Dhenkanal district. For the poor parents, the deformed kids were a liability.

Moreover, the birth of these conjoined twins was seen by the superstitious villagers as a symbol of divine wrath.

There are various newspaper accounts of these twins, famously known as “Orissa Twins”, having toured the Americas, Europe and England. The sisters had a decade-long stint, exhibiting themselves as freaks in different exhibitions. 

The twins’ family was ostracised by the community, and in sheer desperation, the father tried to forcefully separate them. However, some local officials prevented him and sadhus of the local Mahima cult took them under their protection. They named the girls Radhika and Dudhika.

News about the twins got around and was reported in the English press in 1892. London showman Captain Colman sent his agent to Odisha, who convinced the monks to hand over the twins for their better treatment. There is also proof that an Odia woman, probably an aunt, accompanied the twins. They sailed for America to take part in the Chicago Fair of 1893, after stopping for a week in London.

The British Medical Journal carried a report on the twins in its on June 1893 issue, which said, “The two little girls, nearly four years old, are apparently perfect in every respect, except that from the ensiform cartilage to the umbilicus, they are united together.”

“They were a big draw at the Chicago Fair, and this drew the attention of P.T. Barnum of the famous Barnum and Bailey Circus. They twins were soon a part of the ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’,” said Mr Dhir in his latest article, The Famous Orissa Twins.

“Captain Colman treated the girls as an adoptive father and the girls were happy with each other. They learnt English and travelled all over Europe and the USA,” says the historian. 

In 1902, while in France, Doodica developed tuberculosis. With the hope of saving Radhika, Dr Eugene Louis Doyen, the famous surgeon of France, did the separation surgery on February 9, 1902. He filmed the twins’ surgery and showed is as La Separation de Doodica-Radica.

Sections of Doyen’s film were part of the 1995 BBC documentary series — The Last Machine. “The operation was a failure as Doodica died just seven hours after the surgery. Radhika too did not live long,” added Mr Dhir.

“Dr Doyen’s operation stirred up a controversy among the medical fraternity of the time. Both the sisters were given secret burials in Paris. Nothing was known about them until Thierry Lefebvre wrote about them in his 2004 book titled Flesh and Celluloid: The surgical cinema of Dr. Doyen. Few in Odisha know of them, there are no archival accounts of the twins who had toured the world a good four years before Barrister Madhu Babu stepped ashore,” concludes the historian.

Tags: odisha, british medical journal, the famous orissa twins
Location: India, Odisha, Bhubaneswar