Hayavadana by Girish Karnad : Summary
Hayavadana Summary : Hayavadana is a play by Indian writer Girish Karnad. The play tells the story of two friends who are in love with the same woman and who accidentally swap heads. A comedy ending in tragedy, the narrative also tells the story of a man with a horse’s head who seeks to become human. The play was first published in 1971.
The play begins with a worship service, or puja, to the God Ganesha in hopes that the play will go well. The “Bhagavata,” or worshipper of Ganesha, introduces the characters. Two friends, Devadatta and Kapila, are the major figures in the play. The first is a poet, and the second is the son of an iron-smith. Devadatta is known for his sensitivity, while Kapila is known for his physical strength.
As the Bhagavata is describing the men, he’s interrupted by a horrified actor who runs onstage, claiming to have seen a strange creature. The creature, Hayavadana, comes onto the scene. Hayavadana has the body of a man and the head of a horse, which proves to be real when the Bhagavata tries to pry the horse’s head from the human body.
Hayavadana explains that his mother, a princess, fell in love with a horse. She lived with him for 15 years until her love broke his curse, and he returned to his true form as a celestial being. She decided not to accompany the being back to heaven, and he cursed her, turning her into a horse. She later gave birth to Hayavadana.
The Bhagavata tells Hayavadana to go to the temple of Kali and ask to become human. Hayavadana leaves.
The story begins as Devadatta enters the scene. He asks his friend Kapila to find out the name and address of the woman that he loves. He tells him that he loves her so much that he would sacrifice his head and his arms to have her.
Kapila finds the woman’s home and knocks. As soon as he sees Padmini, he too falls in love with her. He considers that the clever Padmini would be better off with a strong man like him as opposed to the soft poet Devadatta. Still, he tells Padmini about his friend and how Devadatta wishes to marry her.
Devadatta and Padmini marry, and Padmini is pregnant with their son six months later. The two are supposed to go on a trip to Ujjain with their friend, Kapila, but Devadatta is hesitant as he believes that Padmini is attracted to his friend. Because of Devadatta’s jealousy, Padmini decides to cancel the trip but changes her mind when Kapila arrives.
Along the way, Padmini compliments Kapila and seems to be admiring his muscular body. The party passes a temple and Devadatta decides to make good on the promise he made before that he would give up an arm and his head to have Padmini. He leaves the pair and cuts off his head. Kapila finds Devadatta and decides to cut off his head as well.
Padmini finds her husband and his friend headless and is just about to kill herself when the goddess Kali intercedes. She tells Padmini to replace the men’s heads, and she will heal them. Padmini rushes to follow the Goddess’ instructions, but as the men are revived, she finds that she’s mixed up the heads and placed them on the wrong bodies.
On returning home, the two men argue over which is Padmini’s husband. Kapila’s head states that his body created the child Padmini carries and accepted her hand in marriage. Devadatta’s head argues that the head is in charge of the body. Padmini chooses Devadatta’s head.
Soon after, Devadatta goes to the fair in Ujjain and purchases two dolls in preparation for his child. He tells Padmini about a man that he wrestled with using Kapila’s body and how he won. Padmini later gives birth to her child.
The child’s dolls narrate some of the action in the household. Padmini is pleased with Devadatta’s new body until it begins to look more and more like his old one. She picks fights with Devadatta, and the dolls reveal that she secretly dreams of Kapila.
On a trip to the forest with her son, Padmini comes upon Kapila living in the woods. Just as Devadatta’s body softened, Kapila has regained his former strength. Padmini tells Kapila that her son is also Kapila’s son since her husband has his body. She points out that her son has a mole in the same place that Kapila does. Padmini stays in the woods with him for several days.
Devadatta goes looking for Padmini and finds her with Kapila. The two men fight, and both die.
Padmini instructs Bhagavata to take her son to hunters and tell them he’s Kapila’s son. After five years, take him to Devadatta’s father and say to him that he’s Devadatta’s son. She tells him she plans to commit Sati, lying on her husband’s funeral pyre.
Hayavadana comes onto the scene, now a horse. Padmini’s son is also there, and the Bhagavata says that the boy doesn’t speak or laugh. When Hayavadana asked Kali to make him whole, she made him all horse instead of all human. The story makes the boy laugh, and he sings with Hayavadana, who wishes to have a horse’s voice. Hayavadana cries, and the boy tells him to keep laughing. Eventually, Hayavadana’s laugh sounds like a horse’s neigh.
The play ends with a celebration to Ganesha for the success of the play.
Karnad based the play on a novella by Thomas Mann called The Transposed Heads and on a Sanskrit text from the 11th-century called Kathasaritsagara. It uses a traditional Indian theatre form called “Yakshagana,” meaning that it’s music, costumes, dances, and designs are all styled in a particular way.
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