Through the pages of ‘The Palace of Illusions’, Chitra Divakaruni crafts a novel portrait of age old Mahabharata, from the perspective of its illustrious and enigmatic heroine Draupadi, the princess of Panchal, empress of Indraprastha. Chitra explores the myriad shades of life, love, valor, conflict, manipulation, regrets, and finally a war in this wonderful blend of myth and modernity. The residents and guests of the magnificent palace of illusions were marvelously captured by its mistresses point of view bringing forth a strange affinity between the characters and readers of the intriguing tale.
Draupadi emerges as the embodiment of human desires. The reader’s emotions fluctuate with Draupadi as we see her growing from young insecure lady to a bold and beautiful woman as the tale progresses. She was the depiction of a woman’s heart, yearning and conflicts in the patriarchal society.
The fire born princess of Panchal was different from everyone, a lonely divinity on the earth. Her journey starts with the birth from the sacred ceremonial fire, were she was blessed to king Drupad along with her twin Dhristadyumna, who was polar opposite of the nimble and uninhibited sister.In the initial days she confirmed herself into the closed doors, afraid of people’s judgment of her. But with the help of her only genuine friend, Krishna she turns completely different, blooming like a butterfly shedding her cocoon. But there was always a voice, a voice in her heart that yearned for a home, a home where she was loved, a love so overwhelming and sweet that she could never awake from it. Through the passage of time the curious girl, who gave headache to her radically conformist teachers, turned into a woman whose knowledge and beauty had captured the entire Aryavrata. Soon she gets married to Arjuna the exiled prince, even though she loved Karna more. And destiny plays another game, ending up with Draupadi getting married to all the 5 pandavas, quite unseen in her times. Still in search of a place of her own, the now daugher in law of the Kuru Dynasty, stumbles upon the takshak van, which they obtained after a tussle with the king of Hastinapur. And finally the home she craved was gifted to her by those in the upper realm in the form of Palace of illusions, from where she ruled the state of Indraprastha as an empress. But happiness never lasted for long and one such day she was gambled away and humiliated and sentenced to exile with her husbands . Bruised, broken and hurt, she cursed the entire family to destruction. Her curse came true in the form of a war which obliterated the entire then Indian subcontinent. The war never brought happiness to her soul though, and her death was unhappy too. Beyond death her search for a home and love ended, in the Divine abode.
Very cleverly the author exploits her narrative license, while drawing an amorous angle between Panchali and Karna, or the unamiable tensions between Draupadi and Kunti as she wades through the complexities quite pleasantly.
While the novel was very well written, Banerjee could have added a little grandeur to the vocabulary. There is a major flaw in the protagonist’s character, who has a misplaced rebelliousness throughout the book. And lastly Divakaruni could have delved into the idea of feminism by actually breaking the boundaries set by patriarchy, but clearly she stays out of it.
But overall it is a worthy read. The author deserves credit for putting it all on the table within a hundred pages along with one for providing fresh perspective. The retelling surely stirred the imagination and captured the hearts of readers.
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