Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is the Mahabharata told from Panchaali’s viewpoint. I could even call it her autobiography. The book has been written in first person. Draupadi or Panchaali comes out as a strong, outspoken, intelligent, well read, selfish and passionate lady. She dreams of breaking bonds that shackled history.
This book starts with Draupadi’s along with Dhristadyumna ‘Dhri’, emerging, as twins, from the sacred fire. She feels that her father, King Drupad was not happy to see her emerge as he wanted only Dhri but Dhri holds on to her hand and takes care of her. Dhai ma is the mother figure for both of them and can read Draupadi like a book. Draupadi learns the language of law and the court and even sits with her brother to learn the lessons from his tutor.
There is a part in the book, just before the Swayamwar, when Draupadi feels that she is in love with Karna, something we did not know. She is won in the swayamwar by Arjun, dressed as a Brahmin and from a palace; suddenly finds herself walking through a forest to a hut where she is made to sleep on a tattered rag on a floor and is forced to marry all the five brothers as an order from their mother which they can’t refuse. Then her father brings them back to the palace and he seeks Vyas’s advice on her marriage, who says that she has to marry all the five of them and would be a wife to each brother, one year at a time, from the oldest to the youngest.
They are reinstated in Hastinapur, then again forced to move to an arid area which is given to them as their inheritance and with the help of Maya, construct the Palace of Illusions, which is envy of everyone. All is well until the Kaurava’s, who were invited for the Rajasuya sacrifice, invite them to return the favour.
Draupadi’s feelings have been voiced in the book, be it her acknowledgement of the fact that Kunti is a wise woman, that she herself is a bad mother (her own children were strangers- cool and distant) and a good wife but confesses that she did not love any of her husbands (supporting them in good times and bad, providing them comforts and extolled their virtues). Her relationship with Krishna and her feelings for Karna have also been mentioned in the book.
The author has also mentioned about Amba’s rejection, the story of Gandhari and Dhritarashtra, the story of Kunti-Madri-Pandu and the story of Nal-Damayanti.
The author has researched thoroughly and has stuck to the facts, adding a human touch to the epic and what comes out makes a deep impact on the reader. We were kids when the greatest epic was telecast on the National TV network and would be glued to the television, the roads would be empty and the markets would open after the episode would be over. The characters in that epic were very strong.
I started the book, unknowingly, on the very same day as the new Mahabharata was scheduled to be telecast on the cable television in India, as I am not a TV buff. The Mahabharata we studied in school or read in the Amar Chitra Kathas was very war oriented and Draupadi was mentioned, but not in details. I re-read the Amar Chitra Kathas alongwith the book and enjoyed the book even more.
Book Source: bought