The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

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“Aren’t we all pawns in the hands of time, the greatest player of them all?”

Lord Krishna

Synopsis

Smart, resilient, and courageous Panchaali, born of fire, marries all five of the famously heroic Pandava brothers, harbours a secret love, endures a long exile in the wilderness, instigates a catastrophic war, and slowly learns the truth about Krishna, her mysterious friend.

My thoughts…….

Telling any more than that, would actually be retelling the epic of Mahabharat, which I’m sure, is not what people want to be told again. But think about it for a moment. Take a walk down the memory lane and try to remember how your grandmother recited this story to you, or the way it was depicted in the storybooks that you read. Think about the way Bheema, Arjuna and Yudhisthir were exulted and how the women were shunned to a corner of the story. Reminiscence how the Pandava brothers were always portrayed as the valiant ones despite letting their wife get shamed in front of a court full of people.

Mahabharat has been told enough times in a voice the society loves. It’s time that changed. It’s time Draupadi got her say in this tale, a tale that spans decades, a tale that teaches us more than any other. Any person who has read this book will know the amount of prominence given to the detailing of Panchaali’s (Draupadi) character. This woman is the very embodiment of the tornado of emotions a female probably had to endure in the patriarchal society that existed back then.

The Kurukshetra Battleground

Draupadi aka Panchaali’s character

Not that she was without faults, oh she had too many. Her ego, her thirst for vengeance, her arrogance and lastly, her undying love for the wrong man. The author has turned the tables so many time throughout the book, that the readers are left nonplussed if they like her or loathe her. Her faults, her triumphs and her heart, which was forever set on her palace; the palace of illusions, all this are sketched in the best writing style and language.

“Expectations are like hidden rocks in your path—all they do is trip you up.”

Panchaali

Draupadi’s tries hard to fight the social structures around her. But from very early on in her life, she has to bow down to higher values — like protecting one’s family honour and choosing for the greater good of the kingdom.

It starts with her Swayamvar, where she compromises on her heart’s desire and picks Arjun over Karna. Next, when her mother-in-law, Queen Kunti, asks her to wed all her five sons, she acquiesces. We see her evolution from a young, rebellious girl to a queen of the times.

Writing Style

Banerjee expertly weaves the original stories from Mahabharata, while adding her own spin to events. The name of the novel comes from the architectural marvel that housed the Pandavas when they ruled Hastinapur. The Palace of Illusions was full of optical tricks. When their cousins, the Kauravas came to visit, they found themselves befuddled and lost. Draupadi, in her arrogance, mocked their confusion and set fold the events that led to the great war between the two families.

“She who sows vengeance must reap its bloody fruit.”

Panchaali

This book also gives a great deal of eminence to Lord Krishna, who metamorphoses into the man who had a key role behind the war itself. Though Chitra Banerjee does not give a different or alternative ending to this story, she succeeds in making it sound like an unorthodox tale altogether; just by giving Panchaali her voice, which she never got in the original version.

I would definitely suggest this book to everybody who is looking for a fresh perspective on Indian Mythology and hopes to gain more values than what the male-oriented version would teach us. This book has given me a new window to glance at this Indian epic from, and later becomes an irreplaceable form of memory when I think of the Mahabharat.

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