‘Hayavadana‘ is a two-act play from Girish Karnad written and published in 1971. As all his plays, it was also first written in Kannada, the playwright’s mother tongue, then was translated into English.
The play is based on a Sanskrit story found in Katha Sarit Sahara, a Somadeva’s collection of stories. This story is told by Vethala to an adventurous prince. The story’s lack of credibility is compensated with exhilarating narratives and incidents.
Hayavadana deals with ruins of love, the imperfections of human and so on.
At the beginning of the play a puja is performed by the narrator Bhagavata to Lord Ganesha, the lord of lords, to bless the performance of the play. The blessing of Lord Vigneshwara is also invoked. The narrator reveals that the play is set in Dharmapura.
The narrator introduces the central characters one by one. Devadatta and Kapila are two close friends. Devadatta, a poet who hails from a Brahmin family and known for his sensitivity. Kapila is the son of an iron-smith known for his physical feats. As the narrator is busy setting up the play, a scream from behind the screen interrupts him. An actor hurries onto the stage and informs that he has found a grotesque creature on his way to the theatre. The creature is Hayavadana, a creature with human body but horse’s head, appears on the scene. The narrator tries to pry into and pull off the horse-head of the creature thinking somebody makes prank at him wearing a mask. But it proves to be real. On the request of narrator, Hayavadana begins to narrate his story.
Hayavadana’s mother is a daughter of a famous King of Karnataka. A Swayamvara is arranged in which eligible princes from various Kingdoms participate to hold the Princess’ hand in marriage. The last prince comes with a horse. The Princess faints at this sight. When she wakes up, she reveals that she is in love with the horse, not with the prince. She is married off to the horse according to her willingness. After fifteen years of happy married life, one day the horse turns out to be Gandharva who reveals it to be a curse, as the result of it he turned into a horse. Now he is released from his curse. He asks her to come along with him as his partner. But she informs that she loves him only in the shape of horse. Enraged Gandharva turns her to a horse and she runs away happily. Hayavadana is left helpless behind. The Bhagavata is really moved by his story. Hayavadana is advised by the Bhagavata to surrender to Goddess Khali who can emancipate him from this condition.
The story begins. Devadatta seeks the help of Kapila to go and speak to the woman he loves. Kapila finds her in her house and falls in love with her at the first sight. Still he informs Padmini of Devadatta’s pursuit of her. Devadatta and Padmini are married.
A few months later, they plan to go on a journey to Ujjain. Kapila also joins them. On the way, Padmini compliments Kapila’s muscular body. At a temple, Devadatta reminds his promise that he would cut off his head and arm for her love. He leaves them and cuts off his head. On seeing Devadatta’s torso, Kapila also does the same. Padmini finds both lying headless, she also decides to kill herself. When she is about to do so, the Goddess Khali intercedes. Khali tells her that she can replace their heads on their respective bodies and revive them. Padmini hurries to their bodies and replaces their heads. Then she realises that she has done a grave mistake; she has mixed up the heads with wrong bodies.
Back at the home, the two men argue over to whom Padmini belongs to. Kapila’s head claims that his body is reasonable to produce the child in Padmini’s womb and has accepted her hand in marriage. Devadatta’s head claims that the head is responsible for the body. Finally Padmini chooses Devadatta’s head. Devadatta purchases two dolls from Ujjain for the upcoming child. Padmini gives birth to a child.
The dolls play a major role. They reveal Padmini’s dreams of Kapila to Devadatta. Padmini likes Kapila’s (now with Devadatta) body. But it turns out soft in course of time. But Kapila has built Devadatta’s body and regained his former muscular feats again. Padmini finds him in the nearby forest. She claims that her son also belongs to Kapila. She also stays with him. Devadatta searches and finds her in the forest. The two men again fight which ends up in both of their death.
Padmini decides to commit Sati. She instructs the Bhagavata to take her son to hunters and inform them that it is Kapila’s son then to take him to Devadatta’s father and say him that he is Devadatta’s son. Hayavadana visits Padmini’s son. On knowing the boy’s inability to speak or laugh, Hayavadana requests Khali to make him whole. She makes him a whole horse instead of a whole human. He laughs, but it sounds like a horse’s neigh. The play ends with a celebration to Lord Ganesha for the successful completion of the play.