Book Review

The Palace of Illusions

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The Palace of Illusions is a rich tale of love, power, passion, strengths and weaknesses, honour and avenge. It is a 2008 novel by award-winning novelist and poet Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, released by Picador.
The novel is a rendition of the Hindu epic Mahabharata, as told from Draupadi's (Panchaali's) viewpoint. This throws light on the life of a woman living in a male-dominated patriarchal society. Relevant to today's ambiguous and hypocritical world, The Palace of Illusions takes the readers back to a period of time that is a half history-half myth, and entirely magical. Narrated by Panchaali (wife of the Pandavas in the Mahabharat), the novel offers a new interpretation of this ancient tale, as perceived from a woman's point of view. 
The storyline traces the princess Draupadi's life, starting with her birth in fire to her life as a married woman with five husbands who have been cheated out of their father's kingdom followed by the exile and the ultimate catastrophic war (mahayudh). Panchaali is engrossed and involved in their quest to reclaim their birthright, while sticking to their side through 12 years of exile with unwavering commitments and duties.
It is actually fascinating to find a book that deals differently with Draupadi with a proper story, like Vyasa's epic, where Draupadi begins. The splendor of the story transcends with the narration. The epic saga, told in the first person, Divakaruni's tale takes us through the story in Draupadi's voice. From being born of the sacrificial fire, which results in her beautiful name 'Yajnaseni', to her dull and lonely childhood, tricky marriage to five men with a singling-out problem and a control-freak and dominating mother, her own, lovely home at last, and then the unbelievable traumas that follow that nobody should have to go through fall on her tender shoulders at an early age when she should actually be ruling than ruining her life and time.  The name, 'Yajnaseni', is, however, not much used in this epic saga.
The exile, injustice and outrage of modesty led to a dreadful war between the kingdoms. All the important kings of India participated in the war as a pro or anti of the Pandavas. Meanwhile, we also get an insight  of her strategic battles with her mother-in-law, Kunti. This sort of relationship between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law is quite common and often seen in the Indian scenarios. It is like a war between prejudice and justice. Some amount of light is thrown on her complicated friendship with the charismatic and witty Lord Krishna, who saved her modesty in the time of need (during vastra haran by Dushasan) and her secret attraction to this mysterious man who is her (five) husbands' most dangerous enemy. Some imaginative twists are mentioned in this saga, like Which man does Paanchali really loves and seeks? How does she get to describe the war? And, who is that one person who truly loves Paanchali? Panchaali is a high-spirited women, who is all set to redefine a world for everyone that has fiery warriors; just gods; the conspiracies of the fate and unseen destinies.