Bringing Clarity to Perspectives- Book Review ‘The Palace of Illusions’

Chitra Divakaruni switches the narrative, giving the onus of narrating her version of the epic saga of Mahabharata to one who is the sufferer, and the catalyst in the family war. Drupadkumari Draupadi, Princess of Panchal, through the imaginative and powerful expression of the authoress writes about her birth, recounts relatable experiences, and matures throughout the book in a marvelous redemption . Read this exceptional piece of literature to embark on a journey of self-exploration for the mighty yet haughty Yagyaseni, Panchali.

The great saga of Mahabharata is ageless and intrigues the curiosity of all those living on this land. Its exceptional characters, from Ganga’s son Bhishma to the gentle Pandu, his elder brother Dhritrashtra who had a tragic journey and fate of his own, to the ever-conspiring Shakuni and his intent to secure the throne for his sister’s lineage, to the cousin brothers who fought a war that destroyed the world order 5000 years ago, live on in the imaginations of readers.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Author : Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Who knew, that a princess can have a secret? Kuntibhoj’s adopted daughter Kunti gave birth to an unfortunate child, who floated on lotuses only to be picked and brought up by a family of carriage drivers. Only because the princess conceived the baby out of wedlock, did the Sun’s child face discrimination and death at the hands of his own brothers. A curse turned into a blessing for the righteous Pandu, who was cursed to lose right to intimacy by a sage he accidently killed during hunting. The God of Death gave birth to the principled Yudhishtir, while the God of Air blessed Kunti with the powerful and muscular Bhim. The God of the Skies Indra fathered the great archer Arjuna, while Pandu’s second wife Madri conceived Aswini Kumaras’ twins Nakul and Sahdev.

In another place, Drupad performed a yagna to reverse his stars and get a son to continue his lineage. But his name was retained by the unwanted, cursed bi-product of this yagna: Drishtdyum’s female twin Draupadi.

Divakaruni’s Panchali was as black as soot, and a rebel who confined to no gender disparity. She learnt what her brother did, even if through hiding or arguing, and the motherless child was raised by a Dai who she loved and hated at the same time. Vyas, the creator of the epic, sent one of his fisherwomen to teach Draupadi the delicacies of a wife and queen. This fisherwoman taught her ways of the kitchen and bedroom, and how she could rule the hearts of her husband forever. When Panchali expressed to her that she wanted to be known for bringing peace to the world, the teacher doubled up laughing with tears in her eyes as she foresaw the fate of the princess.

A rugged archer stood up to accomplish the challenge for her swayamwar, but the haughty princess barred him from doing so as he was a Sutputra, or son of a charioteer. Little did she know, how time and emotion will tie her to this one throughout the story and its fateful fate.

Draupadi recounts her version of Kunti, a character arch who was harsh and relentless to this bride. She horrifically recounts how Kunti made sure Panchali was married to her five sons because different wives would break the unity of these brothers. She recounted relations with each, and also how she never got the love of Arjuna, or how each got married more than once. From the horrific derobing or Cheerharan, to the killing of her five sons, Draupadi witnesses war and faces a world of widows forced into slavery after the battle that killed millions. She remembers Krishna as a friend, and slowly fades into death and otherworldy conscience as she leaves the reader mesmerized and exasperated with the detailed experiences of the great saga.

For those who wish to venture into feminist literature, or get a deeper insight into each character of Mahabharata, this book is an elixir to behold. I would especially recommend this book to emphasise the need of a version of experiences recounted by the ill-fated, yet flawed and still mighty Draupadi.

By: Gauri Joshi

Book name : The Palace of Illusions Author:Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publication:Picador India
Price:Rs 399
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