Mythology and folklore were Girish Karnad’s favourite muses. He is credited with transposing stories from epics and oral tradition into contemporary tales and analysing them in the context of modern existential conflicts. Sometime in the mid-1950s, before he left to study in England, Karnad revisited Indian mythology and history. Among the books he read was C Rajagopalachari’s version of the Mahabharata which left a deep impression on him. He was particularly inspired by the story of Yayati.What affected Karnad more than the predicament of king Yayati — an ancestor of the Pandavas who was turned into an old man by the curse of his father-in-law Shukracharya — was the plight of Yayati’s son Puru, who took upon himself his father’s old age and infirmities to enable Yayati to continue sensual enjoyment. “A question began to haunt me,” Karnad writes in his autobiography Aadadata Ayushya. “What if Puru had a wife? Would she have approved of this unnatural arrangement and allowed her husband to sacrifice his youth for his father’?” As he pondered over the story, Karnad began to experience a rush of dialogues. “I could actually hear the dialogues being spoken in my ears and my job was just to pen them on paper like a stenotypist,” recalls Karnad in his autobiography. ‘Yayati’, Karnad’s first play, was published in 1961 and subsequently translated and staged in English and several Indian languages. While the novel approach in the play left orthodox viewers fuming, modern audience were impressed by Karnad’s re-interpretation of an ancient myth from the Mahabharata. In ‘Yayati’, Karnad, who was only 22 then, also articulated women’s sensibilities in an effective manner, exhibiting all the signs of a mature playwright. In his one-act radio play, Ma Nishada (1964), based on the Ramayana, Karnad questioned Rama’s role in the epic. Then came Hayavadana in 1971, for which he drew on a tale from Kathasaritsagara, its complex presentation inspired by Thomas Mann’s The Transposed Heads. Karnad’s handling of issues of personal identity in a complex world of tangled relationships through wit and irony and his technical experiment with an indigenous dramatic form won him wide acclaim and opened up fresh lines of exploration in Indian theatre. While technically strong and complex, Karnad’s plays also had a lyrical quality in theme. As UR Ananthamurthy once said, “The characters in his play involve themselves. They can talk to their inner being and yet become characters in the play.” Karnad played an important role in the resurgence of Kannada drama literature as well. The overwhelming response he drew from Kannada readers and critics for ‘Yayati’ inspired him to continue to write in Kannada. He even decided against settling down in a foreign land and returned to India after completing his studies in Oxford. However, in Oxford, Karnad was fascinated by the discussions among teachers and pupils on American playwright Eugene O’Neill, who was part of the modernist movement to revive the classical heroic mask from the ancient Greek theatre and experimented blending myths with Freudian psychology. “I wanted Indian myths to achieve the status Greek myths have on the world stage,” Karnad said in one of his interviews. For Nagamandala (1988) – a play which stresses the human need to live by fictions and halftruths — Karnad chose a local Kannada folktale as his source, which he had heard from renowned scholar of the oral traditions, AK Ramanujan. What drew Karnad to folklore was the fact that although the tales seem to uphold traditional values, they also have the means of questioning those values. Karnad always championed the cause of women in his plays, be it Hayavadana, Agni Mattu Male (Fire and Rain), Yayati, or Hayavadana. As Karnad’s talent found full expression in re-working myths and legends — almost all his plays were hits — he was also criticised for reinterpreting Indian mythology and folklore from a western point of view and oversimplifying them so as to make them acceptable to western readers and viewers. Last play on Talikota battle Rakshasatangadi, the last play written by Karnad was released in August 2018. It centres around the Battle of Talikota (1565) between Aliya Ramaraya of the Vijayanagara empire and the forces of the Deccan Sultanate. It was the fourth historical play by Karnad after Tughlaq, Taledanda, Tipu Sultan Kanda Kanasu.