THE TWO-HEADED BOY OF BENGAL

In 1790 the astute surgeon Everard Home wrote of ‘a species of lusus naturae so unaccountable, that, I believe, no similar instance is to be found upon record’.He was writing of the Boy of Bengal after observing drawings and collecting and reviewing the accounts of several of his peers. While the boy was remarkable for both his medical condition and perseverance, Home was actually incorrect in his initial assumptions.

The Two-Headed Boy of Bengal was born in the village of Mundul Gait in Bengal in May of 1783 into a poor farming family. His remarkable life was very nearly extinguished immediately after his delivery as a terrified midwife tried to destroy the infant by throwing him into a fire.Miraculously, while he was rather badly burned about the eye, ear and upper head, he managed to survive. His parents began to exhibit him in Calcutta, where he attracted a great deal of attention and earned the family a fair amount of money. While the large crowds gathered to see the Two-Headed Boy his parents took to covering the lad with a sheet and often kept him hidden – sometimes for hours at a time and often in darkness.As his fame spread across India, so did the caliber of his observers. Several noblemen, civil servants and city officials arranged to showcase the boy in their own homes for both private gatherings and grand galas – treating their guests to up close examinations. One of these observers was a Colonel Pierce who described the encounter to the President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks and it was Sir Banks who later forwarded the account to the surgeon Everard Home.

The term ‘Two-Headed’ may be a bit misleading as rather that two heads side by side, the Boy actually had head atop the other. When compared to the average child, both heads were of an appropriate size and development. The second head sat atop the main head inverted and simply ended in a neck-like stump. The second head seemed to, at times, function independently from the main head.When the boy cried or smiled the features of the second head did not always match. Yet, when the main head was fed, the second head would produce saliva.Furthermore, if the second head was presented with a breast to suckle – it would attemp to do so.While the main head was well formed the secondary head did posses some irregularities.The eyes and ears were underdeveloped.The tongue was small and the jaw malformed but both were capable of motion.When the Boy slept, the secondary head would often be observed alert and awake – eyes darting about.

Despite the attention the Boy of Bengal received, none of it was medical in nature.There were no intensive first hand medical examinations of the Boy on record and the vast majority of the press attention given to the Boy focused no on his condition, but rather his ‘freakish’ appearance.The Boy, who seemed to suffer no serious ill effects in relation to his condition, died at the age of four from a cobra bite.It was only then, after much unseemly business, that medicine was able to examine the case.

The Boy was buried near the Boopnorain River, outside the city of Tumloch but the grave was soon robbed by Mr. Dent, a salt agent for the East India Company. He dissected the putrefied body himself and gave the skull to a Captain Buchanan of the East Indian Company. Buchanan brought the skull to England, where it ended up in the hands of his close friend- Everard Home.

When Mr. Dent had dissected the heads he discovered that the brains were separate and distinct.Each brain was also enveloped in its proper coverings and it appeared as though both brains received the nutrition required to sustain life and thought. The skull of the Boy of Bengal can still be seen at the Hunterian Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons of London.

The classification of this condition is today known as Craniopagus parasiticus and technically falls under the category of parasitic twins however many of the early naturalists have attempted to classify the Bengal case as a case of conjoined twins due to the signs of independent life given by the second head.

Previous to 1783 teratology texts listed no fewer that eight suspected cases of Craniopagus parasiticus however the Boy of Bengal case is not only the earliest well documented account, but also the first account of such a case surviving past infancy. Recently on December 10, 2003, Rebeca Martínez was born in the Dominican Republic with this rare condition and she was also the first baby born with the condition to undergo a surgical removal of the second head. She died on February 7, 2004, after the 11-hour operation. On February 19, 2005, Manar Maged – also born with the same condition- underwent a successful 13-hour surgery in Egypt, but died on March 25, 2006 due to repeated infection.

 Adapted from Jan Bondeson’s book: The Two Headed Boy

images : 1. Hand drawings of the Boy of Bengal by Mr. Smith 3. The Boy of Bengal byArthur William Devis (1762-1822)

Author, researcher and an expert of the odd, J. Tithonus Pednaud has been chronicling bizarre history and highlighting the lives of those born exceeding different for over a decade.

31 Comments

  • Reply January 14, 2008

    Rachael

    WOW. That is amazing that the little boy survived that long and that the jointed head actually was capable to think and have motion. Amazing.

  • Reply April 5, 2008

    Christian

    Here’s a video of Manar Maged
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMyobzReF9w

  • Reply April 10, 2008

    Anonymous

    ooomg the other heads.. they were people too! esp. the boy’s other head.. its so creepy that it was awake when he was asleep. maybe eventually it would have become smart enough to “take over” and be in control of the body… *shivers*

  • Reply May 28, 2008

    Anonymous

    The second head was alive, as with both of most conjoined twins. the second head was merely without it’s own body, being kept alive, by the oxygen, that WAS being provided, due to the area joined at the head, some vains were also joined, alowing the second head to survive, and think. at least thats what I think…..

    >.> it wouldn’t have been able to take over the body… read some technical babble about siamese twins to find out why, because I’m too bored/lazy to tell you.

    and now to my personal thoughts, non-medical, or technical, or whatever….

    it would be weird to be a head, attached upside-down to somebody elses head, uncapable of movement besides facial movement. able to think, and able to look around, yet unable to eat, or drink, or even breathe, yet able to stay alive…. and without a body… always having to go where your brother/sister went… and due to lack of lungs, unable to talk… it would be so weird to be just a parasite, attached to somebodys head… unable to do anything… or comunicate in any way… probably back then they didn;t have the means to find out if the second head was alive… so the boys parents probably thought that the second head was just a useless thing attached to their son… makes me pity the poor bodyless head… I beleive it was capable of thinking, so I suppose thats my concluding statement.

    wow, I don’t put this much work into a school report….

  • Reply June 3, 2008

    Tephrochr

    I don’t think the parents thought it was just a “useless thing attached to their son,” as the article states it possessed the rooting reflex and was aware of when (I’m assuming) the mother’s nipple was against his cheek. Useless only in the fact that it was incapable of independent, aside from facial, movement.

  • Reply June 28, 2008

    Anonymous

    It’s a shame something as commonplace as a cobra bite did him in. I imagine he would have been quite an interesting pair of persons as an older man. Truly strange, but fascinating.

  • Reply July 5, 2008

    Anonymous

    what i dont understand about the top head is that if they were to feed it and it was to swallow where would the chewed food go it the neck was only a stub and didnt have a body would it choke?
    or would it spit it out , what would happen?

  • Reply September 12, 2008

    Claire

    I think it didn’t really have to eat, does it? I mean, there’s no heart beating anyway, he depends on his brother to live, so the one who has to eat is the one who has a body, right?

  • [...] to an otherwise complete infant.  (The most famous historical example is that of the Two-Headed Boy of Bengal, whose tragic life was as poor, nasty, brutish and short as anything conjured by the mind of Thomas [...]

  • Reply March 24, 2009

    Sunny

    One would rather think of this mirror how in human nature has evolved to exist. This would also make scientist think that if a person can have two types of hearing, then his two different head can think seperately and answer seperately??

    Well in the distance future, nature is teaching man to have more than our artificial brain so that our thinking can be faster and far ahead of our times making a super human say, with just a watch on our wrist.

  • Reply April 23, 2009

    Jacobus

    that video scared the hell out of me

  • Reply May 29, 2009

    GN522Chinami

    This is amazing
    I am intrigued in this one :)

    especially when I read that “it can eat”(i mean it can drink a milk)

  • Reply October 1, 2009

    Lucy

    if he (or they) were 4 yrs old when they died from the cobra bite – a 4 year old can talk – i wonder if the head talked too????

    if i were a head stuck on top of my twins head i would scream
    “ahhhhhhh kill me”

  • Reply October 9, 2009

    Kaitlyn

    I doubt the second head could talk. It only had a stump for a neck, so I would think the vocal cords were not devoloped.
    And no, how can you fed the extra head when the food would have no where to go. It would probably choke, die, then possibly kill the other child.

    This is just what I think could happen.

  • Reply January 20, 2010

    Robert

    I love your website. Though, you do need a copy editor.

  • Reply April 28, 2010

    Mamimi

    I don’t think it would choke…it would just have food in it’s mouth. He’d eventually have to just spit it out…

  • Reply May 6, 2010

    Anonymous

    It definitely wouldn’t choke! Because, to choke, it would have to breathe! And it had no lungs.

    It would have the instinct to breathe, but no ability to actually breathe :O

  • Reply May 24, 2010

    Katherine

    I remember reading about Manar Maged, but I hadn’t heard that she had died. I’m so sorry to hear that.

  • Reply September 29, 2010

    Jasmin

    i was reading another artical about these boys, and found out that even when the fully developed boy was breastfeeding the mouth of the other one would move his mouth at the same time.
    and when the fully developed boy made a face the twin would make the same face, as if the nerves were conjoined aswell making both boys move.
    also, something else i read was that the non-developed boy, even though his body ended at his neck, he did have partially developed lungs and heart. weather they worked im unsure of still…

  • Reply November 20, 2010

    avery

    these storys are so interesting, yet sad. i believe god placed them here for a specific reason. god bless them

  • Reply February 9, 2011

    Society Painters

    [...] reproduced from time to time on the web, and usually for the wrong reasons, is a portrait of the “two-headed boy of Bengal”, whose deformity led him to be exhibited, in life and in death, during the 1780s. Neither the [...]

  • Reply June 8, 2011

    kgjldf;

    that picture is so freaken freaky.

  • Reply June 20, 2011

    DaziRazi

    I was reading on some other websites and the upper head’s (let’s call him head 2) movement was mostly reflexes. Head 2 had little reaction to light and mostly just drooled. However head 1 was completely functional which leads me to conclude that if they had grown into adults head 2 probably wouldn’t talk not only because of it’s lack of lungs and vocal cords but because of it’s disability to completely function. But I’m just the average Joe with a computer : /

  • Reply October 19, 2011

    Rawr

    Edward Mordrake had the same condition except his second head was on the back of his real head and would supposedly whisper bad things to him while he tried to sleep. He killed himself at age twenty three.

    So fascinating but sad. 

  • [...] viva aparentemente normal y con cuerpo propio. El caso que se conserva en el Hunterian procede de un niño nacido en 1783 en la aldea bengalí de Mundul Gait, conocido históricamente como “el niño de dos cabezas [...]

  • Reply January 18, 2012

    Ashley

    That is clearly one of the most remarkable articles that I have ever read. Fascinating how the boy survived.

  • [...] Source [...]

  • Reply December 10, 2012

    alskjdfh

    What I would like to know is how his neck managed to hold up both heads. Being so young the neck would’ve just snapped. Was he just kept lying down his whole life?

  • Reply December 28, 2012

    hope

    If someone knows the name of this boy(s), please comment and tell me so I can further my research on him (them). Thank you

  • Reply November 19, 2013

    Photo restoration

    Thank you for sharing so fascinating article. Hard to believe…!

  • Reply February 25, 2014

    mandie

    i have done quite abit of research into siamese-conjoined twins and abnormalities in humans and my opinion is that it is remarkable how the human race evolves and desolves. science and medical findings is heresay but if it werent true or partially why would it be started. Uttered in the first instant. You must ask yourself this as science is and always will be proven but not.

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