Home Literature Hayavadana by Girish Karnad Summary & Analysis

Hayavadana by Girish Karnad Summary & Analysis

by Litinbox

Hayavadana by Girish Karnad is one of the dominant plays in the Indian theater first published in 1972. The plot of play was derived from the Kathasaritsagara, a collection of ancient Indian folktales, and Thomas Mann’s novella, “The Transposed Heads.”

However, Girish Karnad does not simply retell the same story again in the play, but puts his own spin into the narration and infuses his own unique style. Karnad’s Hayavadana thus becomes a unique play in the Indian literature that attracted millions of audience worldwide.

Hayavadana by Girish Karnad

Hayavadana by Girish Karnad is a magnus opus that revolves around three main characters: Padmini, Devadatta and Kapila. Devadatta is a handsome young man and an intelligent scholar. On the other hand, Kapila (Devadatta’s bosom friend) is also a young man with a well-built physique, but lacks intelligence.

Ideally, Devadatta and Kapila are somehow imperfect – Devadatta lacks the strong physique of Kapila, while Kapila lacks the intelligence of Devadatta – as they embody different aspects of humanity. Padmini, who seeks perfection in others, is flawed herself.

Technically, Hayavadana by Girish Karnad has two interesting plots: the sub-plot and the main plot; the sub-plot deals with the grotesque creature “Hayavadana” (who has horse’s head in human body) while the main plot deals with Padmini-Devadatta-Kapila. Both of these plots deal with the above mentioned theme of “Quest for Perfection” or the theme of incompleteness.

Hayavadana by Girish Karnad Summary

Act 1

Hayavadana by Girish Karnad begins with the narrator, Bhagavata, performing a puja to Lord Ganesha, seeking his blessings for the upcoming performance. It is revealed that the play is set in Dharmapura.

One by one, the narrator introduces the central characters. Devadatta, a sensitive poet from a Brahmin family, and Kapila, the son of an iron-smith known for his physical strength, are close friends. While the narrator is setting up the play, a scream from behind the screen interrupts him.

An actor rushes onto the stage and informs everyone that he has encountered a strange creature on his way to the theatre. While the actor is explaining the peculiar creature, it comes on to the stage. The creature is Hayavadana, a being with a human body and a horse’s head. The narrator, thinking it is a prank, tries to remove the horse-head but realises that it is real. At the request of the narrator, Hayavadana begins to narrate his story.

Hayavadana’s mother was the daughter of a famous King of Karnataka. A Swayamvara was organised where eligible princes from various kingdoms participated to win the Princess’s hand in marriage.

The last prince arrived with a horse, causing the Princess to faint. When she regained consciousness, she confessed that she was in love with the horse, not with the prince. She willingly married the horse.

After fifteen years of a happy married life, the horse revealed himself to be Gandharva who had been cursed and transformed into a horse. Now free from the curse, he asked the Princess to join him as his partner, but she insisted on loving him only in his horse form. Enraged, the Gandharva turned her into a horse, and she happily ran away.

Hayavadana is now left in a helpless state. Bhagavata is deeply moved by his story and advises Hayavadana to seek the help of Goddess Kali, who can free him from this condition.

The story continues with Devadatta and Kapila, two close friends. Devadatta is seeking Kapila’s help to speak to the woman he loves. Kapila finds her at her house and instantly falls in love with her. However, he informs Padmini about Devadatta’s pursuit of her. Devadatta and Padmini eventually get married.

A few months later, they plan a journey to Ujjain, and Kapila accompanies them. During the journey, Padmini admires Kapila’s well-built muscular body.

At a temple, Devadatta reminds Padmini of his promise to sacrifice his head and arm for her love. He leaves them behind and cuts off his head. Witnessing Devadatta’s act, Kapila also does the same undoubtedly because of his assumption that he is accountable for his friend’s suicide.

When Padmini discovers both of them lying headless, she decides to sacrifice her own life. Just as she is about to do so, Goddess Kali intervenes. Kali offers to restore their heads and revive them. She advises Padmini to fix their respective heads into their and the press the knife on their neck to revive them.

Padmini hurriedly replaces their heads but realises that she has made a grave mistake by mixing up the heads with the wrong bodies.


Back at home, the two men argue over who Padmini belongs to. Kapila’s head claims that his body is responsible for fathering Padmini’s child and Devadatta’s head argues that the head is responsible for the body.

Eventually, Padmini chooses Devadatta’s head. Devadatta buys two dolls from Ujjain for their upcoming child. Soon, Padmini gives birth to a child, a male baby.

The dolls play a significant role as they reveal Padmini’s dreams about Kapila to Devadatta. Padmini still desires Kapila’s body (now housing Devadatta’s head).

However, Kapila’s body gradually loses its strength over time, while Devadatta’s body regains Kapila’s former muscular feats. Padmini finds Kapila in a nearby forest and claims that her son also belongs to him. She also decides to stay with Kapila. Devadatta searches and eventually finds them in the forest. The two men fight once again, resulting in their deaths.

Padmini decides to commit Sati. She instructs Bhagavata to take her son to the hunters and inform them that he is Kapila’s child. Then, he should take the child to Devadatta’s father and inform him that the child is Devadatta’s.

Hayavadana visits Padmini’s son and discovers that the boy is unable to speak or laugh. Hayavadana requests Kali to make him whole, but instead of making him fully human, she transforms him into a complete horse.

Hayavadana laughs, but it sounds like a horse’s neigh. On seeing Hayavadana, the boy laughs and everyone is happy that the boy laughs for the first time in his life. Bhagavata reveals that the boy has not expressed any emotions in past five years.

Hayavadana by Girish Karnad ends with a celebration honoring Lord Ganesha for the successful completion of the performance.

Hayavadana by Girish Karnad Characters


Devadatta is one of the two main characters of the play Hayavadana by Girish Karnad. He faces identity crisis, struggles for hope and undergoes a journey of self-discovery.

Devadatta is Kapila’s close friend and marries Padmini with his help. Devadatta is handsome and intelligent but lacks attractive physique. This emphasises that no human is created complete. In fact the whole play emphasises this concept right from the beginning.


Kapila is one of the most significant characters in Hayavadana by Girish Karnad. He is strong and has a well-built physique but lacks intelligence. His love and lust for Padmini forms a love triangle, and surprisingly Padmini returns his love even after her marriage. She actually loves Kapila’s strong physique but continues live amicable with Devadatta until some point of time.


Padmini is another main character in the play Hayavadana by Girish Karnad. She is attracted towards both Devadatta and Kapila, and both these guys love her in return. She loves Devadatta’s intelligence and Kapila’s well-built physique, and these two men love her beautiful appearance. This love triangle leads to unfortunate turn of events and tragic end of the play.


“Hayavadana”, the central character in the sub-plot of Hayavadana by Girish Karnad. He is a mythical figure whose grotesque appearance frightens everyone. Hayavadana is a horseman who has horse’s head and human body that signifies the play’s main theme of incompleteness.

Hayavadana’s aspiration for completeness (he wants to become a complete human) ends comically when he is blessed (in fact cursed) to become a complete horse instead. This signifies the unfulfilled desires of human. The sub-plot foreshadows the whole play’s main theme of incompleteness, and the characters’ longing for completeness (particularly that of Padmini’s) leads to the tragic end of the main plot.

Hayavadana Themes

The play Hayavadana by Girish Karnad explores several themes. Before getting into exploring themes in the play, we must acknowledge that there are two plots: the main plot and the sub-plot.

The main plot deals with the story of Padmini- Devadatta- Kapila while the sub-plot deals with the story of Hayavadana. Both the plots have their own themes and some themes in common.

Theme of Incompleteness

Theme of incompleteness in both the main plot and sub-plot of Hayavadana by Girish Karnad. The sub-plot of the play deals with Hayavadana. Hayavadana is a strange mythical creature with horse’s head and human body that symbolises incompleteness. This theme of incompleteness foreshadows the same theme that later unfolds in the main plot.

Hayavadana is an incomplete creature who is neither human nor animal. This incompleteness represents the universal incompleteness and unfulfilled desires of human existence.

Hayavadana is in search of completeness in the sub-plot and Padmini longs for completeness or perfection in the main plot. Padmini seeks perfect partner. She loves her husband Devadatta’s intelligence and longs for Kapila’s physique. This quest for completeness and perfection forms the main plot.

In fact, the theme of incompleteness is introduced at the very beginning of the play when the narrator Bhagavata performs Pooja to Lord Ganesha. Lord Ganesha, a Hindu god, who has an elephant’s head and a human body, resembling Hayavadana.

Though the character Hayavadana appears only in the sub-plot, the play is named after him, because Hayavadana is a symbol of incompleteness and the whole play surrounds around this theme.

However, the main plot is not just limited to this theme of quest for wholeness. It also deals with several other themes such as the themes of identity, self-realisation, love and desire and so on.

Theme of Identity

Another main theme of Hayavadana by Girish Karnad is the theme of identity. The characters struggle with their own sense of identity and try to replace it through different means.

If we take Padmini, for example, she constantly struggles to choose between Devadatta and Kapila. She loves both of them for their own unique abilities, and they both love her in turn. This represents her struggle to define her true self.

Hayavadana, on the other hand, embodies the fragmented nature of identity because he has the head of a horse in human body. He is in search of the sense of identity and the quest for wholeness. Horse head of Hayavadana represents the physical prowess and the human body symbolises intelligence. This theme raises the question of the limitations of self-identity.

FAQs: People Also Ask

Q: What is the frame story and main story in Hayavadana?

The frame story in Hayavadana by Girish Karnad deals with the story of the bizzare mythical character Hayavadana. He opens up a flashback where he narrates the story of how he was born Hayavadana, with a horse’s head in human body.

The main story revolves around the characters Padmini – Devadatta – Kapila, the triangle love story in which Padmini is in search of wholeness and identity and the men are caught in love and desire. These things lead to the characters downfall and the tragic end of the play.

Q: What is the significance of the sub plot in Hayavadana?

The subplot Hayavadana story foreshadows and deepens the importance of the main theme of incompleteness. Hayavadana encapsulates this theme of incompleteness in his physical appearance: his head is of horse’s and his body is human.

Q: What is the symbol of dolls in Hayavadana?

Devadatta buys two dolls from Ujjain for their upcoming child. The dolls play a significant role in Hayavadana by Girish Karnad:

  • The dolls play important role in the play because they reveal to Devadatta the dreams of Padmini about Kapila which exposes her desire to have Kapila’s body (now with Devadatta’s head).
  • The dolls in the play are used to convey Padmini’s psychological state to the audience and act as a stage device to expose her hidden feelings.

Q: Who is the main character of Hayavadana?

Even though the play is titled “Hayavadana”, this peculiar Hayavadana is not the main character. Hayavadana by Girish Karnad revolves around two bosom friends: Devadatta and Kapila.

Devadatta loves Padmini and he seeks the help of Kapila to speak to her to convey his love. At first sight, Kapila falls in love with her, and it is clear that she admires Kapila’s strong physique that continues even after she marries Devadatta. Thus this story turns out to be a triangle love story that leads to the characters’ eventual downfall.

Next Page: About Girish Karnad