An Illusion which paves the way to Reality

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Whether it is the tragedy of Troy or the Great War in Mahabharata, the root cause of it is always a woman. Women have been misunderstood, exploited, ill-treated and wronged in every way possible ever since the times of angels and demons. The epitome of suffering being Draupadi herself. Draupadi, the daughter of King Drupad. Who was born out of fire and whose rage burnt down kingdoms? A woman who never got the chance of proclaiming her love for the person she truly loved. And a woman who was forever looked down upon by the patriarchal society. Even then, the fact that women were given respect was only a fabricated myth.

‘The Palace of Illusions’ has as its protagonist , the fire born princess of Panchaala, who was forever called a kritya – one who brought doom to her clan. Till date her example is being given as someone who was not a suitable girl because she married five men and definitely an ill omen since she was considered to be the main reason of the greatest war in the history of India. South Indians had formulated the saying – “Ati keshi pati naasha” – referring to her long flowing hair which they considered brought ill luck to the entire kingdom of her husbands.

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Written in a first person narrative by the award-winning writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, the novel traces the journey of Draupadi in this men’s world. For the first time in the history of Indian literature an author has dared to give the female perspective of the Mahabharat. It begins from her birth from the sacrificial fire along with her twin brother and her strange and lonely childhood. It then goes on to her tricky marriage to her five husbands and a power hungry mother. Then, finally finding peace at her own beautiful home The Glass Palace, at last, but then ending up in a conflict which leads to the elimination of their entire race, eventually. We then come to see how her own husband gambles away her home, freedom and honor. She is humiliated and almost stripped in public. It then goes on to her horrifying life of servitude and evading assault. All of this ultimately culminating into the petrifying war and finally her lonesome death.

This 2008 novel, published by Picador, gives us a pen picture of the life and times of an enigma. The story is as intricate and complicated as the epic poems written by Homer. It embodies a series of political relationships which grow and develop, where friends and enemies are created and disowned alike. Everything leading to the final battle which would eliminate them all. It is amazing how well Divakaruni has been able to get under the skin of the character of the female protagonist of this book and tell a tale which aptly captured the tragic storyline and fate into which Panchaali was born. This brilliant attempt to re tell the already told tale from the perspective of a woman for the first time is the author’s best work till date.

Most of what she has written is in sync with the original epic Mahabharata, but The Palace of Illusions breaks the monotony of the male dominating society and emerges out as a woman centric novel which manages to break all the notions and the facts we thought we were certain about regarding this tale. In spite of having taken the imaginative liberty, she had also gone through extensive research about the epic. Hence when she says, the first person Draupadi fell in love with was not Arjun, although many beliefs are shaken and myths are broken, but I personally don’t think it was only an outcome of her whim or fancy.

Questions like whom did Draupadi really love? Was she really happy being married to the pandava’s? How does she get to describe the battle? What was her relationship with Krishna? And most resplendent discovery of them all: Who is the one who really, truly loved her from the very beginning of the epic till the very end? And do they ever really re unite? These are the few of the many innumerable questions which keep you hooked on to the book. This is a page turner. It will become impossible for you to put it down. The layers and the unravelling of the meanings hidden underneath every word and every turn of events, when disclosed, reveals a whole new world to you. A world which you never thought imagined when you read Mahabharata. A world where the woman has a mind of her own and she feels. Love, hate, anger, hurt, hopelessness, she feels it all. A world where the woman has the right to love and want to be loved back in return as well. It breaks your blinkers and widens your spectrum of vision. It is a must read for anyone who is interested in Mahabharata.

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