Flip The Script: Girish Karnad, Hayavadana

Well hello there. I’m feeling a little better today, I got some exercise, went to APO meeting, and have almost everything read for tomorrow’s class. I did almost die of smoke inhalation from burning two bags of popcorn this afternoon, though; don’t buy PopSecret 94% Fat Free, folks. The 6% they left out is what makes it, you know, not burn. Two bags in a row consisted of a giant, steaming clump of foul-smelling brown popcorn that stung my eyes and nose so badly that I had to take it straight to the garbage chute, and tonight I cooked rigatoni with mushrooms, zucchini, spinach, and extra garlic to mask it. My apartment smells like garlic now, but come on, other than vampires, who really minds garlic over burnt popcorn.

But, anyway, the play I read last night for class tomorrow is flipping fantastic, so I’ve gotta share it with you all. Join me, once again, in India, for Hayavadanaor Horse Head by Girish Karnad.

Horizontal tricolor flag bearing, from top to bottom, deep saffron, white, and green horizontal bands. In the center of the white band is a navy-blue wheel with 24 spokes.


Written by Girish Karnad in India in 1972. Originally written and performed in Kannada (the language of Karnataka). Its first production was in via the Madras Players of Madras, India in that same year. Though it is based on a tale from the classical Sanskrit text KathasaritsagaraKarnad also acknowledged German writer Thomas Mann‘s The Transposed Heads as inspiration.


  • Bhagavata – Acts as a narrator; speaks directly to the audience.
  • Actor I
  • Hayavadana – Half horse, half man.
  • Devadatta – Padmini’s husband and Kapila’s best friend. Described as smart, creative, and artistic, but scrawny.
  • Kapila – Devadatta’s best friend. Described as strong, handsome, and more in tune with physical rather than mental labor.
  • Padmini – Wife to Devadatta.
  • Doll I
  • Doll II
  • Kali – A goddess.
  • Child
  • Actor II


We open with a pooja ceremony. Bhagavata announces the play in a presentational style, until he is interrupted by an actor who comes on with Hayavadana, who has the body of a man but the head of a horse. (No, it’s not a joke).

But then we must leave Horse-Head and go to Karnataka, where Devadatta, Kapila, and Padmini live. Both Devadatta and Kapila are interested in the princess Padmini. Devadatta sends a poem to Padmini via Kapila, and even though she is attracted to Kapila physically, ultimately, Devadatta’s poem wins her heart and they get together. While pregnant with Devadatta’s child, Padmini plans a trip to a temple in Ujjain. She initially invites both her husband and his friend. Devadatta balks at taking Kapila along but eventually gives in. Padmini realizes how attractive Kapila is once he climbs a tree and retrieves a flower for her. Devadatta, jealous, goes to a temple to commit suicide and does so by cutting off his head. Kapila finds him, and is so distraught he cuts off his own head. Padmini finds both headless corpses and is about to chop her own head off when the goddess Kali appears, telling Padmini that she can bring both of them back to life by placing their heads back on their bodies – simple enough, right? First, Padmini tells Kali that she doesn’t believe her, to which Kali’s all, “Do you want your husband and his friend back? Then do what I tell you to.” Finally, she does it, but of course she puts the wrong head on the wrong body (in the script, both men wear masks, and she just puts the wrong mask on the wrong man) and when they wake up, everyone’s confused. Ultimately, the new “Devadatta” (Devadatta’s intelligent head on Kapila’s muscular body) wins Padmini, and “Kapila” (…what’s left over) is sent packing.

Padmini and Devadatta are initially happy, they have their children (weird, creepy, doll-children, but children all the same), and now Padmini has her ideal husband and Devadatta has his ideal body. Over time, however, Devadatta becomes out of shape, while Kapila, living in the wild, becomes stronger. (At this point, the actors switch masks again). Once Devadatta discovers Kapila and Padmini together, chaos erupts again. The solution? Devadatta and Kapila must both die. So they kill each other, and then Padmini commits suttee, or widow-burning, and that’s the end of their story.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we learn that Hayavadana the horse-guy (remember him?) is the son of Padmini and Devadatta. Only now, he is all horse, so no more identity crisis. And then he sings,Bhagavata throws away the creepy dolls from before (thank God) and everyone sings.

My Thoughts

How fun and fanciful; shades of Midsummer Night’s Dream and Freaky Friday, only much cooler, with less Lindsay Lohan. I was kind of wondering if the end would indeed be a threesome, and Padmini even suggests it, but I think that it ended appropriately, despite everyone dying. I’m still not sold on the actual horse-man himself, but I get it. This play could really be transformed onstage, especially with some puppetry a la Handspring (the folks behind Ubu and the Truth Commission and War Horse). They’ve already got the giant horse; they could probably swing a few dolls and a giant goddess Kali. Speaking of Kali, I really liked her characterization. Frankly, I thought that Padmini was an idiot from the start, and Kali’s sass just made it funnier, like…hayavadana2

Oh, and yay for another six-continent day! Welcome visitors from North America (Canada, USA, and Jamaica), South America (Brazil and Argentina), Europe (UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Italy, Germany, and Czech Republic), Asia (Qatar, Kuwait, and India), Africa (Rwanda) and Oceania (Australia and Papua New Guinea).

Works Cited:

Karnad, Girish. Hayavadana. New Delhi: Oxford India, 2006.


7 thoughts on “Flip The Script: Girish Karnad, Hayavadana

  1. Glad to hear you are feeling better. Your posts always make me smile so maybe you could read some old ones to feel good. I would recommend the Miss Universe series and the one that suggested there was a big yellow boat (spoiler alert).

  2. Pingback: Wahoo! I’m 2! | That’s So Jacob

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