In the Mahabharata, King Yayati is cursed to old age in the prime of life for a sexual misdemeanor 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 parentâ€™s aggression against his offspring has inspired some of Indiaâ€™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 sonâ€™s â€˜self-sacrificeâ€™ and, against a backdrop of 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 Karnadâ€™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.