Hayavadana is one of Karnad’s most remarkable works. The plot of Hayavadana comes from Kathasaritsagara, an ancient compilation of stories in Sanskrit. The central event in the play-the story of Devadatta and Kapila- is based on a tale from the Vetalapanchavimshika, but he has borrowed it through Thomas Mann’s retelling of the story in The Transported Heads.
The Sanskrit tale, told by a ghost to an adventurous king, gains a further mock –heroic dimension in Mann’s version. The original story poses a moral problem whereas Mann uses it to ridicule the mechanical notion of life which differentiates between body and soul. He ridicules the philosophy which holds the head superior to the body.
The human body, Mann argues, is a device for the completion of human destiny. Even the transposition of heads did not liberate the protagonists from the psychological limits imposed by nature. Karnad’s play poses a different problem, that of human identity in a world of tangled relationships. When the play opens, Devadatta and Kapila are the closer of friends-‘one mind, one heart’, as the Bhagavata describes them. Devadatta is a man of intellect, Kapila a ‘man of the body’. Their relations get complicated when Devadatta marries Padmini.
Kapila falls in love with Padmini and she too starts drifting towards him. The friends kill themselves and in a scene, hilariously comic but at the same time full of dramatic connotation, Padmini transposes their heads, giving Devadatta Kapila’s body and Kapila Devadatta’s. As a result Padmini gets the desired ‘Man’. Kali understood each individuals moral fibre and was indifferent than the usual stereotypical portrayal of god and goddesses.
The result is a confusion of identities which reveals the ambiguous nature of human personality. Initially Devadatta- actually the head of Devadatta on Kapila’s body- behaves differently from what he was before. But slowly he changes to his former self. So does Kapila, faster than Devadatta. But...
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