(Last Updated on : 16/02/2009)
The Ordeal is the Hindu judicial practice which the guilt or innocence of the accused is determined by subjecting them to a painful task. If the ordeal is completed without injury, or the injuries sustained are healed quickly, the accused is considered innocent.
The Ordeals are mainly of four main kinds. They are the ordeals by the balance, by fire, by water, and by poison.
The ordeal by fire was the most familiar among the gods. The Supreme Power is represented as having often had recourse to it to establish the truth of dubious facts.
The seasons are fixed for performing the trial by ordeal and various solemn ceremonies on the occasion. The Brahmans are designated to perform these duties. The person who is to pass through the ordeal must prepare for toy fasts and ablutions, physical cleanliness.
There are also a number of private ordeals, which do not require so much solemnity. They are, compelling the suspected person to sink his arm to the elbow into a vase filled with boiling oil, with which cow-dung has been mixed in order to increase its fervor. Again a snake or a cobra Copeella is kept in a basket, into which a ring or a piece of money is cast, and the accused compelled to fetch the ring or a piece of money after having been blindfolded.
If in the first instance, the person does not experience the effects of the boiling oil, and if he is not bitten by the snake in the second, he is reputed as not being guilty and vice versa if the reverse happens.
The ordeals are returned to in dubious cases, not only by public magistrates, but also oftener by private persons, to ascertain a fact, which interests them. A housekeeper, or the chief of a village in the houses of which any article of value has been stolen, will frequently compel the inhabitants to undergo the ordeal, in order to find out the thief. Jealous husbands often have alternative to it in order to ascertain the virtue of their wives.
These ordeals have sometimes the advantage of threatening and frightening the persons against whom they are directed, who, when they perceive they cannot escape them, confess their guilt. However this advantage is far from compensating for the real and serious evils, which in most cases result from them, by causing the condemnation of innocent persons.