In the Mahabharata, King Yayati is cursed to old age in the prime of life for a sexual misdemeanour of his and tries to circumvent the catastrophe by demanding that his son, Pooru, lend him his youth in exchange for the curse. This unusual myth about a parent's aggression against his offspring has inspired some of India's most eminent writers to explore it in fiction, poetry, and drama. Girish Karnad was only twenty-two when he attempted his interpretation in the play, Yayati. What makes his version of the tale so resonant, and startlingly original, is that he rejects the traditional glorification of the son's 'self-sacrifice' and, against a backof lust, jealousy, and racial tensions, foregrounds the tragic choices with which the young prince and his bride are confronted. Angry, energetic, ambitious, and strongly influenced by the tragic vision of the Existentialists, the play immediately established Karnad's reputation as a dramatist in Kannada and launched him on his celebrated career in the Indian theatre. Yayati has been translated into different Indian languages and has continued to be performed all over the country during the half century since it was written.
Students and scholars of literature and theatre as well as general readers
Girish Karnad World Theatre Ambassador of the International Theatre Institute, Paris, was a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. Apart from being one of the foremost playwrights in India, he is also a noted film-maker and actor. He has been honoured with the Padma Bhushan and was conferred the prestigious Jnanpith Award for his literary contributions.