The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is based on the Indian epic, Mahabharata. Despite the fact that Mahabharata has been a part of our ancient history and culture for more than 3000 years now, nobody thought of narrating this epic tale from a different perspective.
In this book by Divakaruni, the whole story is narrated by Panchali, the wife of the five Pandavas and daughter of King Drupad. The Palace of Illusions takes us back in time and reimagines the whole ancient scenario in a completely new light.
I was intrigued as soon as I got to know about the grand epic being narrated by the perspective of an amazing woman who changed the fate of many. The story is a half myth, half fiction but entirely enigmatic.
The story of Mahabharata is one of the most powerful stories ever told. It transcends time and space entirely. To narrate such a timeless epic all over again takes immense courage and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has done a pretty good job at that.
The novel takes into account the life of Princess Draupadi or Panchali as she was popularly known as. Born from fire, Panchali was a highly intelligent, smart, and strong-willed woman in a man’s world. She tries hard to leave her mark in the world and we find her caught in constant conflicts with the elders of the society.
She questions her role as a designed princess and a woman. She finds solace in her enigmatic friend from Dwarka, Krishna. She joins the central plot of Mahabharata after her marriage to Prince Arjuna, who wins her over in the Swayamavar.
However, she is forced to marry the other Pandavas and be the wife of five men at the same time.
Draupadi is portrayed as a victim to the action of the men in the epic, Mahabharata. From being lost to gamble by Yudhisthir, the eldest of the Pandavas, Draupadi faces severe humiliation in a court full of men.
Though an egoist and a strong-headed woman, you may question several of her actions as a reader. However, you can not argue with the fact that her character had the most tragic fate in the epic.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni sticks to the original story and does not provide any alternate ending. She has done a fairly honest work in recreating the Indian epic. She has rewritten the story eloquently and changed nothing but just Draupadi’s feelings towards the whole story.
We see Mahabharata through her eyes and experience the emotions that she is feeling. From being secretly attracted to a man who is her husband’s greatest enemy to sharing the strongest bond with an incarnation of God, we know and feel it all.
A woman’s perspective on this epic saga along with the side storylines of other women makes this an interesting read. The writing is subtle and engaging. You will feel lost in the magical world that Divakaruni weaves with her words.
The Palace of Illusions derives its name from the grand architectural marvel wherein the Pandavas resided with their wife, Panchali. The palace was laced with optical imagery and tricks which led to several problems as the story proceeds.
Draupadi’s character is drawn almost effortlessly in the most realistic way possible. The author not only focuses on the positive aspects of her character but equally gives importance to her negative side. Draupadi is vulnerable, ruthless, raw, and honest.
Her character is brought to life by Divakaruni’s words. She leaves it up to the reader to decide if she was the reason for the destruction or a mere victim in the hands of merciless men.
The Palace of Illusions is not just a story of vengeance. It goes beyond the concept of rivalry or revenge. It is the story that questions gender roles in society. Draupadi was a mere pawn in God’s plan to establish “Dharma” back into the world but we have a lot to learn from her life’s struggles.
Even after being a daughter and wife of such powerful men, she had to fight her way alone through society to earn her dignity and respect. Panchali, the feminist of Ancient India who led to the downfall of an era and laid the foundation of a new one. Who better to talk about women’s rights than her?
It does not matter if you have read Mahabharata or not, this book deserves your time for the experience it withholds while reading. A must-read for Mythology lovers and Historical fiction readers.
If you enjoy mythology, you should also check out the best Devdutt Pattanaik books on mythology