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.


Surely You Joust

No weekend is ever complete around my parents’ house without the local Jewish periodical, which in Baltimore is bears the ever-so-creative title of The Jewish Times. Technically, it’s Baltimore Jewish Times, and around here, it’s known as the BJT, for short. And speaking of short, is it ever these days; the economy has administered a beating to print publications, and what used to be a thick volume is now smaller than some of the folders I got when I was apartment hunting.

Though they’ve had some good stories over the years, they’re not exactly known for their editing process. Growing up, it was a Friday-evening post-dinner game, “find the errors in The Jewish Times.” Usually, there were only a few, and sometimes they were funny. But sometimes, completely wrong. For example, when my family’s synagogue hired a new rabbi a few years back, someone wrote a lovely article about him and congratulated him on his new position as rabbi of Ner Israel. Except…the synagogue’s name is Ner Tamid. Ner Israel is a school, specifically a yeshiva, that is just as well respected as Ner Tamid, but is not at all related despite having a somewhat similar name. Anyone who’s Jewish and from Baltimore could tell you that. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it was just once – everyone makes mistakes – however, it was sprinkled throughout the whole article. Whoops. Sometimes the most interesting things in there are the letters to the editor pointing out the flaws and mistakes. Those are always fun.

Anyway, this week, I opened up to this article, entitled “Maryland’s State Sport Takes to the Holy Land,” by Simone Ellin.

“Wonderful!” I thought, as I prepared to read a lovely piece about our illustrious and unique state sport.

But there were no foils or fillies to be found: it was about lacrosse.


Our state sport is not lacrosse, it is jousting. Every fourth-grader in Maryland knows that. Even my mother, who in all her years of teaching never made it past the third grade, knew that’s what our state sport was. That’s one of the few things that we have that makes us cool. Sure, we have an awesome flag, great shellfish (from what I’ve been told), and daytime talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford, but jousting is what gives us the edge; it makes up for our boring license plates, our crappily-designed state quarter, and the fact that there is no clear consensus on how to even pronounce the name of our state. Unlike most major sports, however, jousting never really took off recreationally. None of our schools have jousting teams. Dick’s and other fine sporting goods retailers do not carry lances in their stock. And, sadly, even though equestrian events have a place at the Olympics, jousting has never been one of them.

This led me to wonder: what would it be like if we took our state sport as seriously as our state bird, the Baltimore Oriole? The Baltimore Oriole has not only lent its colorful wings but its name to our sports community, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the state who isn’t aware that our state’s baseball team = our state bird. We’ve already got the horse entertainment market partially covered with the Preakness Stakes, so expanding our horizons to jousting can’t be that much of a stretch. What would our state’s jousting team name be? The Maryland Marauders? And of course, there would need to be a commissioned league or something, so we could lord over (no pun intended) the New York Knicker-Knights (pun…intended?). Schools would need more green space in order to keep the horses. There would be jousting scholarships. There could be all sorts of medieval merchandise sold at games, like big turkey legs, and you’d have to dress up in period attire to attend, because that is what you do, obviously. And of course, there’d be the first thrust, done by some famous celebrity associated with horses, like…Benedict Cumberbatch from War Horse. Kids could join in the fun too; we’d have Little Leagues for aspiring knights in shining armor. In these times of equal opportunity, the sport would be open to women and girls as well. Reruns of The Saddle Club would have ratings that went through the roof. All disputes would be settled on horseback. Instead of voting for mayor or governor, there would be a duel. Somehow, I think Stephanie Rawlings-Blake could totally hold her own.

Back in the real world, I glazed through the article and then decided to look up Ms. Ellin. According to her Facebook, she’s not even a born and bred Marylander, she’s from – you guessed it – New York. And yes, that did need both highlight and underlining because this explains a lot. Apparently she’s lived here since 1997, but she’s clearly still got a lot to learn. What she definitely needs is a fourth-grade teacher – or a fourth-grader – to look over her work.

Although, to be fair, later that night my dad and I looked it up and though jousting has been our official sport since 1962, lacrosse has been our official team sport since 2003, by which point I was already a sophomore in high school and therefore past the point in my life where I was taught such information. Even though Ms. Ellin squeaks by on a technicality the title is still incorrect, it should say “Maryland’s State Team Sport Takes To The Holy Land.” That would solve the problem aptly even if it did destroy the flow of the title or cost the JT an extra eighty-five cents in color printing per issue. However, this doesn’t address the overarching problem with this situation.

I still want to see an article about Israel’s next Ivanhoe.

Works Cited:

Ellin, Simone. “Maryland’s State Sport [sic] Takes To The Holy Land.” 2 January 2014. Baltimore Jewish Times. <http://jewishtimes.com/marylands-state-sport-takes-to-the-holy-land/#.UsjgGPRDs_Y>