The most central plot of Hayavadana is the love triangle between Padmini, Devadatta, and Kapila. Devadatta and Kapila, who are best friends, both fall in love with Padmini, who in turn is attracted to attributes in each of them. The dynamics between the three characters dramatize the conflict between the mind and the body. The play shows that while the head may be more in control of the body and may follow more logical instincts, the body and its desires can prove just as strong in swaying the course of human life.
At the beginning of the play, before Padmini is introduced, Devadatta and Kapila’s friendship reflects the mind having more control over the body. Devadatta, a poet, represents the mind and intellect. He has a lot of sway over the actions and emotions of Kapila, a wrestler (who represents the body and its desires). For example, Kapila tells Devadatta that he would walk into fire for Devadatta, and that he is closer to Devadatta than he is to his own parents. Kapila agrees to woo Padmini on behalf of Devadatta, even though he himself has feelings for Padmini and remarks that she needs a “man of steel” like himself.
When Padmini becomes more integrated into the story, she follows her head and marries Devadatta. But she quickly realizes that she also has feelings and desire for Kapila. She is particularly desirous of his body. Karnad does not write any interactions between Devadatta and Padmini before they are married. Instead, the Bhagavata provides the most insight on why she decides to marry him, explaining that because her family was wealthy, and his family was intellectual, nothing could have stood in the way of their marriage. But when the storyline resumes, after the two are married and Padmini is pregnant, Devadatta quickly becomes jealous of Padmini’s affection towards Kapila. Padmini watches Kapila when he does anything physically demanding because Kapila is much more fit, demonstrating her own transition from desire for the mind to desire for the body. When the two men switch bodies, the conflict becomes even more explicit, as there is confusion over who is Padmini’s husband: the man with Devadatta’s head and Kapila’s body, or the man with Kapila’s head and Devadatta’s body? Padmini, for her own part, shows her desires quite plainly as she goes immediately with Devadatta’s head/Kapila’s body, a being that speaks to her two desires.
The dolls that Devadatta buys for his and Padmini’s child eventually become symbols of Padmini’s bodily desire, expressing her inner thoughts to the audience. They establish their connection to desire by describing how the other children and mothers look at them with glowing eyes. As the story progresses, the dolls describe how Devadatta’s hands have softened, signaling Padmini’s waning desire for the new version of Devadatta because his body is reverting to its old form. The dolls eventually narrate Padmini’s dreams, describing how she is dreaming of a man with a “rough” face and a “nice body,” demonstrating how she continues to feel conflicted between her mind and body as the men return to their original states.
The story of Devadatta, Kapila, and Padmini thus dramatizes the conflict between the mind and the body, or between logic and lust. Although initially the head (personified by Devadatta) wins, eventually the body (personified by Kapila) demonstrates its equal power over human emotions and actions. Ultimately, because they are unable to reconcile this contrast, the two men kill each other and Padmini kills herself, proving that when these two sides of human beings are not in agreement, the consequences can be tragic.
The Mind vs. The Body ThemeTracker
The Mind vs. The Body Quotes in Hayavadana
Two friends there were—one mind, one heart. They saw a girl and forgot themselves. But they could not understand the song she sang.
[Devadatta enters and sits on the chair. He is a slender, delicate-looking person and is wearing a pale-coloured mask. He is lost in thought. Kapila enters. He is powerfully built and wears a dark mask.]
DEVADATTA: Kapila, with you as my witness I swear, if I ever get her as my wife, I’ll sacrifice my two arms to the goddess Kali. I’ll sacrifice my head to Lord Rudra…
KAPILA: Ts! Ts! [Aside.] This is a serious situation.
Devadatta, my friend, I confess to you I’m feeling uneasy. You are a gentle soul. You can’t bear a bitter word or an evil thought. But this one is fast as lightning—and as sharp. She is not for the likes of you. What she needs is a man of steel.
Why do you tremble, heart? Why do you cringe like a touch-me-not bush through which a snake has passed?
The sun rests his head on the Fortunate Lady’s flower.
And the head is bidding good-bye to the heart.
KAPILA. [Raising his right hand.] This is the hand that accepted her at the wedding. This is the body she’s lived with all these months. And the child she’s carrying is the seed of this body.
You know, I’d always thought one had to use one’s brains while wrestling or fencing or swimming. But this body just doesn’t wait for thoughts—it acts!
Kapila? What could he be doing now? Where could he be? Could his body be fair still, and his face dark? [Long pause.] Devadatta changes. Kapila changes. And me?
DOLL II: Especially last night—I mean—that dream…
DOLL I: Tut-tut—One shouldn't talk about such things!
DOLL II: It was so shameless…
DOLL I: I said be quiet…
DOLL II: Honestly! The way they…
DOLL I: Look, if we must talk about it, let me.
DOLL II: You didn't want to talk about it. So…
KAPILA: The moment it came to me, a war started between us.
PADMINI: And who won?
KAPILA: I did.
PADMINI: The head always wins, doesn’t it?