Re/Writing Myth

Myths are rewritten in literature across time and place, of all ages, all times and the world over. The peculiarity about Indian myths is the incompleteness of these myths which encourages the audience to question them. Among all Indian literatures, we witness a reversion to mythic stories that are embedded in literature. The story of human incompleteness or the incompleteness of the human individual has been vividly brought out in literature across the Indian subcontinent. It presents the literary representation of myth that binds us across languages and cultures. It is myth that unites us as a nation. The concept of Akhand Bharat or a United Indian Subcontinent was promoted by Adi Sankaracharya who offered water from Ganges in the north at the Rameshwaram coast in the southern part of India, a symbolic gesture of the oneness of all cultures and linguistic identities. The dichotomy between mind and body, head and heart, has been brought out artistically by Girish Karnad and Satish Vyas in their plays Hayavadana and Pashupati respectively. Moreover, these plays have been translated into English and analogies can also be drawn between the western concepts of archetypes. Archetypes are recurring patterns that can be perceived in literature. These archetypes repeat themselves and bring out the continuity of the mythic themes in all literature across ages and regions.

Hayavadana, written originally in Kannada, is an auto-translation (translation by the writer) into English, whereas Pashupati is a Gujarati play that has been translated into English. Translation is often a transcreation or recreation of the existing work of literature and transfers the work from one culture and linguistic background into another. This opens new avenues for the work to be judged by different theorists. Hayavadana presents the story of a man with a horse’s head and human body, a representation of the horse-headed form symbolizing vitality, vigour and creativity. He desires to attain completeness as a human being and he undertakes a journey to fulfil his desire. The head dominates the body, as it is the uttamanga, or highest among the body parts, and instead of becoming a complete human-being, he achieves the complete figure of a horse. The only thing he lacks is the neigh of the horse. He speaks human language. The horse talking human language induces laughter in the autistic child and makes him a social being. The child’s laughter leads to a liberal laughter among all characters and the horse’s voice changes into a neigh. In a very humorous manner, the characters complement each-other’s limitations and the play ends with a moral lesson of humanism, nationalism and faith in the divine. Myth thus brings out the more important realities and lessons in life. It exposes the unknown in a manner that excites curiosity among audiences and leads to an aesthetic repose among audiences.

In Pashupati, the protagonist is a newly married young man who has marital problems initially, but with the support of his family, his wife and younger brother, he, who is suffering from a curse in the past, recovers from the curse and achieves completeness as a human being. Later, an assault on his wife by the vaidya, the local medical practitioner, brings out the animal instinct in him and he turns into a ferocious bull, ready to overpower his contender, the other bull symbolizing the victory of good over evil. What happens towards the end is left upto the reader to judge but the character of the bull-headed-man achieves moksha or satisfaction in the form of a complete bull. Both plays end in a way that is totally contradictory to what was said at the beginning. They thus have the aesthetic value of a literary work.

These superhuman forms excite the curiosity of audiences and keep the viewers glued to the work. Such is the power of myth that is embedded into the structure of a play. Myth helps in creating the theme of story-within-a-story and presenting the ambivalence of psychological problems as well as the mind-body dichotomy. Myth thus appeals to the human soul and elevates it beyond the petty problems of worldly living such as life and death, day-to-day monotonous affairs and human limitations. It addresses as well as fulfils the human inability to comprehend everything that we come across. In both plays what has been portrayed is the victory of good over evil with the intervention of mythic themes.

Analogies can be drawn between the two plays in question. The story of the horse-man and the bull-man are similar in many respects. In both plays, the character achieves satisfaction and completeness, not in human form, but in animal form. This brings out the aesthetic appeal in both plays as well as the sense of awe, a feeling of experiencing the unknown.

The titles of both plays are based on mythic themes. Hayavadana is drawn from the story of Lord Ganesha, a young boy with an elephant’s head and endowed with special powers of head and heart that gives him immense amount of knowledge. Lord Ganesha is known as Gajavadana, that with elephant’s head, Gaja meaning elephant and Vadana, head. Haya is the word for horse, hence Hayavadana stands for horse-headed man. Pashupati is an analogy to the ancient story of Pasupati, Lord Shiva. It also symbolizes the theme where the animal instinct of the husband is brought out in protecting the wife. In both plays, the working of animal imagery is for a positive denouement and the well-being of society at large. Instead of questioning the incomplete myth, these erudite scholars take the myth in its part and weave a story around it, situating the myth in modern circumstances. Although the character and settings are ancient, the myth appeals to a contemporary audience. It has eternal value and appeals to all people beyond the barrier of time. Using the method of discourse diexis, the two writers locate the ancient story in modern settings. The locale and the characters are very removed in time, yet their circumstances seem to be contemporary in nature.


  1. Shukla, Vatsal. Re/Writing Myth: A Comparative Study of Girish Karnad’s Hayavadana and Satish Vyas’s Pashupati. M.Phil Dissertation.Unpublished.Ahmedabad,2014.

Vatsal Shukla (M.Phil), Lecturer at RJ Tibrewal Commerce College, Vastrapur Ahmedabad 380015

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