Act two opens with the Bhagavata repeating his question about the solution to the problem of the mixed-up heads. He describes how Padmini, Devadatta, and Kapila consult a rishi (i.e., a sage) about their problem. The rishi tells them that the head does in fact rule the body, and thus the man with Devadatta’s head is Padmini’s husband. The couple celebrates, and Padmini is particularly joyful about Devadatta’s new body. She tries to console Kapila, reminding him that she is going with his body. Devadatta and Padmini return to their home, while Kapila returns to the forest and disappears.
With the rishi’s resolution regarding which of the men is Devadatta, once again the head proves dominant over the body. But Padmini’s joy makes it clear that she prizes Kapila’s body equally, if not more, than Devadatta’s head. On the other hand, Kapila has now lost the part of himself that defined him (his body). As a result, he no longer understands how he fits into society and so he decides to leave it behind entirely.
Back at Padmini and Devadatta’s house, the two are happier than ever. Devadatta buys dolls for their unborn child at a fair, which pleases Padmini. He recounts to her that on the way to the fair he passed by a wrestler and was moved immediately to challenge him, pinning him to the ground within minutes, even though he had never wrestled before. Padmini marvels at his fabulous strength.
Even though the head is the center of personality, Devadatta’s new body’s impulses reveal that the body can prove just as powerful in defining one’s identity, an idea that Kapila will echo later on. It is this mixed nature of identity that haunts both of the men, and which will later become such a conundrum.
The dolls (who are played by children) address the audience, remarking on the beauty of the house and saying that they deserve the best. The dolls describe how the mothers and children stared at them at the fair with desire. They also comment on how rough Devadatta’s hands are, and say that he doesn’t deserve the dolls.
The dolls serve as another theatrical device, in addition to the female chorus, to convey Padmini’s thoughts and desires to the audience. Their comment about Devadatta’s hands parallels Padmini as she registers the changes in Devadatta’s body.
Time passes and Devadatta and Padmini’s baby is born. Devadatta addresses the Bhagavata directly for the first time, inviting him to the feast they are having. The Bhagavata notes that he hadn’t heard about the feast, or of their son being born.
Through this exchange, the audience can begin to track how the Bhagavata seems to be more and more surprised by the play’s developments as it progresses. This conveys some of the chaos and unpredictability of the play—and of life more generally—as the stories eventually weave in and out of each other in unexpected ways.
The dolls note how they are ignored while the baby gets all the attention. They confess that they should have been wary of Padmini when she was pregnant, swelling up with the baby. They comment on how ugly she looked, though they remark that she is not ugly to Devadatta.
The dolls continue to comment on the state of Padmini’s mind and body, her desires, and the way she interacts with others. Though they often seem to be negative towards her, in many ways they also represent her own insecurities.
Another six months pass, and Padmini and Devadatta are fighting over how to treat their son. Padmini wants to take him to the lake, but Devadatta thinks that it would be too cold to swim. Padmini believes that Devadatta is too protective of him. When Devadatta touches Padmini, she shudders and get goose bumps. Shortly after, Devadatta grabs one of the dolls, who also shudders. The dolls explain that his body is returning to its soft, weak state.
In this exchange, old issues begin to resurface. Padmini once again believes Devadatta is too sensitive. The dolls’ connection to Padmini is highlighted again as they explain why she shudders: Devadatta’s body is losing its power and muscle. This reinforces the idea that the head rules the body and is what defines a person’s identity.
Padmini sings a lullaby to her son about a rider on a white stallion, and falls asleep. The dolls narrate her dreams, describing the appearance of a man whose face is rough but whose body is soft. They say it is someone who is “not her husband,” revealing that she is dreaming of Kapila.
The song that Padmini sings to her son about the white stallion is a subtle foreshadowing of the connection that her son will eventually have to Hayavadana. As the dolls once again narrate Padmini’s desires, it is easy to see the parallel structure with the first part of the story: initially Devadatta’s head wins out, but Padmini ultimately longs again for Kapila’s body.
More time has passed, and Devadatta has returned to his original form: soft-bodied and lacking muscle. A stage direction notes that the actor who originally portrayed Devadatta now returns to that mask/role. The dolls imply that Padmini’s dreams have become particularly sexually explicit, and they fight over who gets to tell the audience, tearing each other’s clothes and scratching each other. This leads Padmini to remark that their son’s dolls have become tattered. She asks Devadatta to travel to buy new ones.
The actors switch masks again—a theatrical device which helps the audience track that the characters have returned to their original form. This change directly impacts Padmini’s dreams, and even drives her to send Devadatta away so that she can go to find Kapila in the forest.
While Devadatta travels to get new dolls, Padmini goes into the forest with her son. She imagines the “witching fair,” making up stories about the activities of the forest. Before leaving, she reveals that she must do one other thing: say hello to the tree of the Fortunate Lady.
As Padmini travels through the forest, the return of the symbol of the Fortunate Lady’s flower is ironic, as the flower represents marriage but appears again, for Padmini, in a moment of infidelity.
In another part of the forest, Kapila enters, and the Bhagavata is surprised to see him living in the jungle. The Bhagavata tells Kapila that Padmini has given birth to her son, and notices how angry Kapila looks by the way he stands and moves. Kapila says that the Bhagavata’s comments are merely poetry.
That the Bhagavata is surprised at Kapila’s appearance is in keeping with earlier hints that he is “in the dark” and no longer in control as the play’s plot twists and turns. As the play approaches its climax, it becomes less and less predictable.
Padmini finds Kapila in the forest. He confesses that he has worked hard to get his body back into shape, almost torturing himself. He is also haunted by memories that belonged to Devadatta’s body—memories of things he never experienced, like being intimate with Padmini. He is distressed that she is bringing all these memories back. She says that he should be able to experience the things in those memories, too, and caresses his face. The two of them go into Kapila’s hut together.
Just as Devadatta experienced impulses that belonged to Kapila’s body, Kapila experiences memories that belonged to Devadatta’s body. This is in keeping with the play’s suggestion that even though the head may make up the personality, the body can be just as crucial in composing the identity of a person. It also establishes that when the head and the body are not in sync, it is difficult to determine one’s identity or feel complete.
Devadatta, who has returned with new dolls, searches for Padmini and runs into the Bhagavata. The Bhagavata is surprised to see him, and reluctantly reveals that Padmini has now spent four nights in Kapila’s hut.
The Bhagavata is also shocked to find Devadatta in the forest, showing that the plot is getting more and more out of the Bhagavata’s hands even as he is the narrator.
Devadatta finds Padmini and Kapila, and the three are forced to confront their situation together. Kapila asks if they could live together as three, but the men quickly reject this idea. Devadatta and Kapila realize that the only way to end their incomplete existence is to kill each other. They agree to fight to the death. Their fight is stylized, almost like a dance, as the Bhagavata sings. Kapila wounds Devadatta, who falls to his knees and stabs Kapila. They continue to fight on their knees before they succumb to their wounds and die.
The inner conflict that springs from hybrid beings comes to a head here. Devadatta and Kapila, spurred by their feeling that they are hollow, and lacking a sense of a complete identity, resolve to kill each other. This indicates that when the mind and the body are not in sync, there can be fatal consequences, and also shows how human beings often strive and fail to find a sense of completeness.
Padmini is once again left behind. She wonders whether she should have said she would live with Devadatta and Kapila both, but acknowledges that they could not have lived together. She decides to perform sati and burn herself on their funeral pyre. She tells the Bhagavata to take her son to the hunters who live in the forest, and then once he reaches five years old to return him to his grandfather in the city. She performs sati as the stage hands lift a curtain with flames on it higher and higher, and the female chorus repeats its opening song asking why one cannot love more than one person. They refer to Padmini as the Fortunate Lady, and the Bhagavata reveals that that tree now stands on the spot where it is believed that Padmini died.
Padmini has her own sense of incompleteness, and realizes that she, like the men, will not find satisfaction. As the female chorus sings again, they highlight Padmini’s struggle with having love for more than one person, and the final reference to the Fortunate Lady’s flower is once again ironic, as Padmini in her marriage was anything but a “fortunate lady.”
As the story seemingly concludes, the Bhagavata is interrupted once again, this time by a second actor who screams that he has seen a horse (who turns out to be Hayavadana) singing the national anthem.
The innermost story of the play comes to an end, but the play is not over. Instead, the action is once again interrupted by Hayavadana, who again calls attention to the fact that the audience is watching a play.
The first actor also returns to the stage, this time with a young boy clutching a pair of dolls. The boy does not smile, laugh, or talk. He only reacts violently when someone tries to touch his dolls. The Bhagavata realizes that it is Padmini’s son.
When Padmini’s son returns as a boy of six, the audience sees that he seems to have his own sense of incompleteness, as he does not appear to have a voice or the emotions of a normal child.
At that moment, Hayavadana returns, this time with a horse body as well as a horse head. He explains that he asked Kali to make him complete, but she cut off his request and made him a complete horse instead of a complete man. He is upset that he still has a human voice, however.
Hayavadana’s storyline connects to Devadatta, Padmini, and Kapila’s through the reappearance of Kali. Even after Hayavadana’s body has been turned into a horse’s, he still feels that he is not complete, as he retains his human voice.
The young boy starts laughing at Hayavadana, startling the Bhagavata and the actors. Hayavadana remarks that he was trying to sing the national anthem because the national anthem ruins people’s voices. Instead he and the boy sing together the lullaby that Padmini had sung to him about the rider on the white stallion.
When Hayavadana mentions that he sings the national anthem to get rid of his voice, Karnad seems to be making a commentary disparaging Indian nationalism—suggesting that he sees Indian culture as being composed of many varied and distinct traditions, like a hybrid.
The Bhagavata remarks how beautiful the child’s laughter is, though Hayavadana is skeptical of that kind of sentimentality. As the boy and Hayavadana continue to laugh, Hayavadana’s laugh changes into a horse’s neigh. Thus, he finally becomes complete.
The Bhagavata’s comment drives home the idea that the laughter and joy which can be found in stories are extremely powerful in bringing people together. Although Hayavadana is skeptical at first, both he and the boy find a sense of completeness in their laughter; the boy finds his voice, while Hayavadana loses his.
The Bhagavata concludes the story by praying once again to Ganesha, and all the other characters and actors join him in prayer. They thank the god for the successful completion of the play and, as a final request, ask him to give the rulers of the country success and “a little bit of sense.”
The final action of the play brings it full circle, ending with a prayer, just as it began. The characters ask Ganesha, who ensured their success, to also ensure the success of the rulers of a country, providing a measure of optimism that someday the country might also have more of a sense of strength in its own complex identity.