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Vol. XXXIII No. 15, November 16-30, 2023

Hayavadana – a story woven around mythical and mystic ideas

-- by K.R.A. Narasiah

It was satisfying to see that after a long spell, due to various reasons including the pandemic, the theatre group of Queen Mary’s College presented a play in English on Oct.12, 13 and 14 at the college auditorium.

It was again heartening to note that the play chosen was Girish Karnad’s Hayavadana; directed by Dr. Naga Radhika, who, as an Australia-India Council Fellow, having got the fellowship for her doctoral  thesis on ‘Aboriginal Women’s Theatre’, has studied theatre art, inspired by professor (late) Pitambarlal Rajani, a noted theatre director in Tamil Nadu, who taught English Literature at the Madras Christian College and directed around 100 plays staged across the country. He later taught at the University of Madras for 12 years where he became an Emeritus Professor and was awarded the Tagore Chair. Radhika had taken part in plays directed by him and followed his footsteps closely in directorial excellence.

She has been working long hours with the QMC student actors and the professors to successfully put on board this play. It was an initiative of the English Department and the play was chosen jointly by the head of the English department and Radhika herself.

Dr. Radhika in the centre.

Radhika says, “It was highly satisfying as the students themselves designed and made costumes and created the artwork, like those of the head of Hayavadana and the portrait of Goddess Kali. I found the students, especially those who played the roles of the three central characters, Devadatta, Kapila and Padmini, able to exhibit a wide range of emotions convincingly – from flirtatious desire to jealousy to the devastation on the loss of a loved one to quiet resignation”.

Written by Girish Karnad, Hayavadana tells the story of two friends, Devadatta and Kapila who are in love with the same woman. The narrative also tells the story of a man with a horse’s head who seeks to become human. He explains the reason behind his strange appearance. His mother fell in love with a horse – who was cursed. Her love broke his curse and transformed him into his original form – a celestial being. The mother refused to come with the celestial being to heaven so he cursed her and made her a horse and the character appears intermittently to articulate the moral of this story. The unhappiness of this beast brings pathos to the awareness of human imperfections, and obsession with them, which is also the main theme of the story.

A scene from the play.

A scene from the play.

The play was first published in 1971.The story is built around the two friends, Devadatta, an intelligent person and the other, a muscular Kapila. Padmini is married to the intelligent man but has affection for Kapila, much to the dismay of her husband, and this eventually turns unbearable when the intelligent man beheads himself. Kapila blames himself for this tragedy and beheads himself as well. Padmini prays to Goddess Kali who asks Padmini to fix the heads back so that they can be made alive again. Padmini in her excitement mixes up the wrong heads. Significantly the play starts with the narrator, a Bhagavata, praying to God Lord Ganesa who himself has an elephant’s head! The actor who donned the role as the Bhagavatha, the narrator, did a perfect job of it. The play ends with Hayavadana becoming a whole horse instead of a whole human being.

It was a difficult task that the college had undertaken as the characters of the play are all half complete and seeking to be complete and perfect. The characters and their feelings are to be understood before taking the roles and this is where the departmental head and the director need to be congratulated, as, to the viewer it appeared that the actors merged with the characters and understood the psychology of wanting to be someone other than what one is.

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