Hayavadana Summary & Analytics by Girish Karnad in English


The play Hayavadana is based on the idea that humans are imperfect and thus have a number of limitations. The play also deals with woman’s emancipation.

Padmini gives preference to her sexual desires and gets an opportunity to remain with both the persons she loves though fails to fulfil her desire (the mind of her husband and the body of her lover). The play is divided into two acts

Hayavadana Act 1 Summary

Bhagavata, a stage player enters the stage and raises some rhetorical questions on perfection and imperfection in the context of Gods and humans. Puja is done. He tells an anecdote of two best friends namely Devadatta (man of mind) and Kapila (man of the body). 

As the play is about to begin an actor (Actor-1), who was supposed to perform, comes running towards Bhagavata and is quite frightened. Upon asking, he tells that while he was defecating, a horse taunted him by talking in a human voice.

Bhagavata does not believe him. While they are arguing, the horse namely Hayavadana enters the stage and has a head of a human and the body of a horse. His look astonishes the audience. Bhagavata enquires Hayavadana about its condition, suspecting that some curse might have fallen on him.

However, Hayavadana rejects his opinion tells that his mother, a princess fell in love with a horse. After 15 years the horse attained the human shape. Princess did not accept him in a human figure. Thus he cursed her and she became a horse and later on gave birth to Hayavadana. Bhagavata suggests he visit the Kali temple as the Goddess Kali is believed to cure all such diseases.  

He also asks Actor-1 to accompany Hayavadana. They depart and Bhagavata begins the play. Devadatta is sitting on a chair. Kapila, his best friend comes and finds him in quite a miserable condition and asks about the cause. Devadatta requests him to leave him alone.

Kapila guesses that Devadatta might have fallen in love again as he had fallen 15 times before within two years and thus this condition of his is not unusual. 

However, when Devadatta shows his seriousness towards his love, Kapila also becomes serious. Devadatta gives clues about the residence of the girl and Kapila sets out for her search. He succeeds in finding her (Padmini) at last and talks to her about Devadatta. Through the efforts of Kapila, Devadatta and Padmini get married.  

However, in a course of time, Padmini gets attracted towards the Kapila because of his strong body and Devadatta becomes aware of it. One day the three decide to visit some fair in Ujjain. On the way, Devadatta asks Kapila and Padmini to visit some temple. They resist but Devadatta does not listen to them and both go away ultimately.  

Devadatta then goes to Mother Kali’s temple and beheads himself as he cannot live without his wife as well as his friend. Kapila and Padmini return and find Devadatta missing. Kapila sets out in his search and found him lying dead, he also beheads himself.

Padmini after waiting for long also starts searching for them and finding them dead, she also decides to end her life, but she is stopped by Goddess Kali who in a mocking way insults both Devadatta and Kapila for killing themselves not in her name but for selfishness reasons (Devadatta kills himself in the name of Padmini and Kapila kills himself for his friend).

Goddess Kali gives Padmini an opportunity to bring both of them back to life. In haste, Padmini mixes up the heads of both. As a result, Devadatta’s head is fitted on the body of Kapila and vice-versa. Goddess Kali knows the intentions of Padmini and says that humans can never give up selfishness.

They all laugh but soon a quarrel arises between the two friends over the matter of whom Padmini belong to. Having failed to find any solution the three go to an old sage who declares that the man having Devadatta’s head is the rightful husband of Padmini. Both Padmini and Devadatta return back happily. However, Kapila being deeply hurt decides to remain in the forest in solitude.

Hayavadana Act 2 Summary

After some months Padmini becomes pregnant. After some months, Devadatta’s body starts assuming its original shape which weakens the love of Padmini for him. Their relationship loses affection and both quarrel often. 

One day she, along with her child, goes to the forest to meet Kapila who does not like her coming and asks her to go back. But she insists on telling him that he is the rightful father of the child. She also asks him to complete the uncompleted love by sleeping with him. Kapila cannot resist and both start love-making

Meanwhile, Devadatta also comes to the forest with a sword. However, his wrath vanishes when he sees Kapila waiting for him. Both are convinced that they cannot solve the matter of Padmini and thus decide to end their life by fighting.  

A fierce fight starts between the two friends and both are killed. Padmini hands over the child to Bhagavata requesting him to handover him over to some tribe and she commits Sati along with the pyre of the two. Play ends

Actor (Actor-2) comes running and tells Bhagavata that he has seen a horse reciting the National Anthem of India. While Bhagavata is in confusion, Actor 1 arrives with a child who was handed over to him by the tribe in the forest (who cannot speak) while he had gone with Hayavadhana. He tells Bhagavata that on the way Hayavadhana left him alone and he returned back.

That patriotic horse also comes and Bhagavata at once recognizes him as Hayavadana. Hayavadana tells Bhagavata that Goddess Kali instead of giving him the shape of human-made him a complete horse. However, he still has the voice of humans and he wants to get rid of it.

He has heard that those who sing patriotic songs have the worst voice. This is why he was singing the National Anthem of India so that he might lose it. Hayavadana starts singing songs and suddenly starts laughing.

Seeing him laughing, the child also starts laughing and consequently their voices are interchanged. the boy gets a human voice and Hayavadana, the voice of the horse.  Concluding Puja is performed. 

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