The epic tale of The Mahabharata has fascinated most of us. For all those who have got their Indian mythology dose from the Amar Chitra Katha, or the television, this book will make an engaging read. Chitra Banerjee’s, ‘The Palace of Illusions,’ is a re-telling of the famous epic of pride, love and revenge—The Mahabharata. What makes this epic more endearing in Divakaruni’s novel, is the use of the first-person narrative, in this case, of Draupadi.
The poignant tale of a girl who always wished she was a man – Panchaali, as she prefers to be called, is a girl surrounded by riches, who is terribly lonely save for her brother and her rather upfront but caring Dhai Ma. She sees the women around her – women who are shielded from public view when court is in session, women who are married off as soon as they hit puberty to old kings – and knows that she is made for more. This fiery-eyed little princess knows her life shall be different and that she shall make a difference. But to whom? And what?
Married to not one, but the five Pandavas, Draupadi indeed changed the course of history. It’s not her husbands that she loves, but their social outcast, unknown half-brother, Karna. From her swayamvara to the final epic war, sage Vyasa, the author of the original masterpiece, who happens to be a participant in this novel, has predicted doom for the fiery princess. Unlike, the traditional princesses, Draupadi, has indeed managed to make a difference and how!
The author has delved deep into Draupadi’s psyche. Her raw emotions are lyrically and eloquently portrayed. Her relationships with her brother, Krishna, her five husbands and with her mother-in-law, Kunti, reveal what Panchali is made of.
The narrative travels through time, from Draupadi’s birth to the bloody war of Kurukshetra, and her final journey with her husbands to the Heavens.
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- Riveting and gripping, one can’t help, but turn the page.
- This is not Mahabharata with a twist, but from a woman’s point-of-view. A male-dominated world of Gods, sages, warriors and heroes unraveled from a heroine’s perspective.
- The high point for me in this book is Draupadi’s beautiful friendship with the endearing God, Krishna. He has his secret connection with everyone she knows, and it seems to her that He shares a special bond with everyone she thinks she knows completely. Yet Krishna manages to make her believe she is his dearest friend of all. He refers to her as ‘sakhi’ and better yet, ‘Krishnaa’, the female version of His own name making her believe that He loves her most dearly.
- The portrayal of Karna. His sufferings and how he dealt with them are known to anyone who is familiar with The Mahabharat. But Draupadi’s secret attraction to her husbands’ most dangerous enemy is the silk thread that strings all the pearls of the events of the Mahabharata. Karna’s character grows from a bright-eyed suitor at Draupadi’s swayamvar, to a strong warrior, to a man who confesses his love for the fiery princess to Bheeshma.
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- The ending was a drag. The bloody war of Kurukshetra and the Pandavas and Draupadi forsaking their lives to go to the Heavens, just seemed to stretch. Consequently, the heavenly meeting of Draupadi and Karna, lost its significance.
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- The lingering infatuation of Panchali towards Karna, her cherished trip with Bheeshma, the special friendship with Krishna and the way Bhima loved her, were all revelations to me.
- I did not know that Duryodhan’s wife was Bhanumati, that Kunti did not believe in using spices, nor that Nal and Damayanti lived before Mahabharata time.
- I could sense and empathize with Panchali’s agony of guilt for being the most responsible one for the war of Kurukshetra.
Recommended for anyone who is interested in Indian mythology.