In 1972 the Madras Players produced the play Hayavadana, originally written in Kannada by the young playwright Girish Karnad (Karnard 2). Translated into English by the author, this now famous work has been heralded as the origin of a contemporary Indian theater based on traditional folk theater (Awasthi 49). Interestingly, this seminal Indian play written by an Indian playwright deals with the same story from the thasaritsdgarthat Mann treats so richly in Die vertauschten Kopfe. Karnad's play, however, is not based simply on the eleventh-century Indian text; it reworks Mann's version of the story as well:
The central episode in the play-the story of Devadatta and Kapila-is based on a tale from the Vetalapanchavimshika, but I have drawn heavily on Thomas Mann's reworking of the tale in The Transposed Heads and am grateful to Mrs. Mann for permission to do so. (Karnad 2)
Hayavadana thus presents us with a rare opportunity to study the cross-cultural treatment of a single story. The short Brahmin parable becomes an ironic German novella in the early part of the twentieth century and returns to India in the 1970s as folk theater. In this section, I am interested in analyzing the changes in form, content, and meaning that have accrued in the text due to this singular treatment.
Karnad's choice in reworking the parable from the Kathasaritsagar comes as no surprise because he has previously written two plays based on Indian myth and history.22 While the central episode of the play is borrowed substantially from Mann, Karnad exaggerates the themes and motifs found in Mann's Die vertauschten Kopfe, maintaining, for example, many of the caste and individual distinctions in Mann's novella, but reinforcing them so that the characters become even more symbolic and less individualistic. Nanda, the cowherd and blacksmith, becomes Kapila (the dark one), a wrestler and smith. Schridaman becomes Devadatta (a polite form of addressing a stranger), a learned Brahmin and poet, whose head is always in the clouds. Sita is transformed into Padmini (a lotus-- one of the six kinds of women as codified by Vatsayana), the daughter of a rich merchant whose beauty exceeds even her sauciness (Dodiya 33). Karnad also invents a frame story to exaggerate the literary themes and meanings in the central episode, and it is this frame that gives the play its name.
Hayavadana, as the name suggests, is a man with a horse's head (Haya = horse and vadana = face; Dodiya 191). (His mother, a princess, had fallen in love with and been impregnated by a stallion.) Hayavadana is desperately seeking to get rid of this strange head when he stumbles on to the stage where the play about the transposed heads is about to be performed. The Bhagavata of the play then guides him to the same temple of Kali where the characters in the play will get their heads transposed.23This incident forms the introduction for the tale of transposed heads that follows.
The main plot of the play begins with Kapila, who finds his best friend Devadatta despondently dreaming about Padmini. Kapila goes to arrange Devadatta's marriage to her and realizes that Padmini is as clever as she is beautiful. Although Kapila is attracted to her, he nonetheless finalizes the match, and Devadatta and Padmini are married. The marriage is unhappy from the beginning. Padmini is herself attracted to the strong-bodied Kapila, and Devadatta is consumed by jealousy. A few months into the marriage, the three travel to Ujjain to a fair. On the way, they rest between two temples, one devoted to Rudra (The Howler-a form of Shiva) and the other to Kali. As in the other versions, the two men behead themselves in the Kali temple. The pregnant Padmini, afraid that she might be blamed for their deaths, then decides to kill herself. However, Kali stops her and offers to bring the men back to life. Padmini rearranges the heads so that Devadatta's head is on Kapila's body and vice versa and asks the goddess to do her magic. Kali resignedly comments that "there should be a limit even to honesty" (2:33) and brings the two men back to life.
In the confusion that ensues after the transposition of heads, Padmini makes it clear that she wants to be with the Devadatta head/Kapila body (2:38). Her wish is granted by an ascetic who mediates the conflicting claims from both men to be her husband. The ascetic's decision is the same as that given by King Vikramaditya in the Kathasanitsagar and by Kamadamana in Die vertauschten Kopfe. With his new body Devadatta returns to the city with Padmini and they begin a blissful marital life. At this point Karnad introduces two dolls that Devadatta presents to Padmini as gifts for the expected child. Through their own dialogues, the dolls describe the dynamic changes occurring in the family. They document the change of Devadatta's body from its rough muscular Kapila-nature to a soft, pot-bellied Brahmin body. They reveal that Padmini has given birth to a disfigured son and that she has now begun dreaming about Kapila again. The dolls also become the theatrical device through which Padmini sends Devadatta to Ujjain, so she can use his absence to sneak away with the child to the forest where Kapila resides (Dodiya 183).
Back in the forest, Padmini finds the rough and muscular Kapila again. He is surprised to see Padmini, and she reveals her desire for his well-muscled body. Devadatta, armed with a sword and two new dolls, finds the lovers, and the two men decide to kill each other since their love for Padmini cannot be reconciled. Padmini then decides to commit Sati. She entrusts the boy to Bhagavata and leaves instructions for him to be raised both as Kapila's son and as Devadatta's son.
Here the Bhagavata ends the story, and Karnad suggests in his stage directions that the audience should feel that the play has ended (2:64). However, the frame story involving Hayavadana begins again. An actor stumbles on the stage screaming that a horse has been singing the National Anthem, while another actor leads in Padmini's son-a mute, serious boy clutching his two dirty dolls. No amount of clowning and questioning by the actors elicits a response from the boy. Hayavadana returns to the stage, now with the body, as well as the head, of a horse. Kali has answered his prayers, it seems, by eliminating his human physical characteristics altogether. Nevertheless, he still has a human voice and is singing patriotic songs. Hayavadana begins laughing when he sees the actors and Bhagavata. His laughter and human voice infect the mute child with laughter, and the child begins to speak and laugh normally. In a cyclic transformation, the child's laughter causes Hayavadana to lose the last shreds of his human nature and he begins to neigh like a horse. Karnard thus uses the logic of myth to create a double, reciprocal exchange of functions that allows for resolution (Levi-Strauss 227). Hayavadana and the boy in effect complete each other: the one, as a human child returned to the fold of society and the other, as fully animal...........