When your protagonist is one of the most celebrated characters of a widely read epic, then it becomes quite difficult to sketch her in a different light, as the writer’s liberty gets limited.
The Palace of Illusions (Review)
The author’s portrayal of Draupadi in The Palace of Illusions is conventional, as well as very much contemporary. Though she never steps beyond the precincts of the supernatural storytelling of Mahabharata, also unfailingly adds the conflicts and values of any 21st-century woman. Born from the sacrificial fire, Panchali was never gladly accepted by her father. The ceremony (Yagya), which was conducted by King Drupada to have a son (who might play a crucial role in taking revenge against Dronacharya), accidentally gives rise to a beautiful, dark-skinned girl. From her unnatural birth to her unconventional looks, Draupadi was always treated as an object of enigma and, at times, envy. Apart from her best friend, Krishna, her brother Dhrishtadyumna, and her old governess were the only people who filled her lonely childhood and teenage days. Her keen interest in reading, writing, and strong disinterest in feminine activities made her spinsterhood even more complicated. But these mundane days of her early life take a complete U-turn when her swayamvar gets announced.
Haunted by the prophecy of Vyasa and troubled by her ‘unreasonable’ feelings for Karna, Draupadi accepts her destiny and marries Arjun and eventually all of his brothers. No matter how many versions of Mahabharata I read, or how many analytical articles I went through, nothing convinces me about her decision to marry all five of them. But here, the author has tried her very best to pen down the agony and confusion faced by Panchali when forced to marry four of her husband’s brothers, whom she never loved or wished to love.
What made this marriage more difficult for her is the cold-hearted Kunti, who played a pivotal role in distributing her among the five Pandavas. So when Panchali gets a chance to flee from her clutches and become the mistress of a magical and beautiful palace, she imbibes it within herself. The unsung and unfortunate love story of Karna and Draupadi keeps withering as the story takes its due course in the line of the great epic. Though Arjun’s love for Subhadra and Karna’s indifference keeps stinging her, Panchali fights her way to establish herself as one true queen and the strongest support system of her husbands.
After the loss of Pandavas in the infamous game of dice and her unimaginable humiliation in the hands of Kauravas, Draupadi stripped-off her comforts, status, and her beloved palace sets foot on a journey of pain, loss, and destruction, which continues until her last breath. From living the life of a forest dweller for 12 years to being a chambermaid to a dimwit queen, she lived every possible nightmare. Probably the inextinguishable fire of revenge within her heart, kept her going. The only solace in all this agony was the thoughts and supernatural presence of her closest friend, Krishna."The unsung and unfortunate love story of Karna and Draupadi keeps withering as the story takes its due course in the line of the great epic." Click To Tweet
In the battle of Kurukshetra, powered by the third eye given to her as a boon (or a curse?) by Vyasa, Draupadi only longed to see Karna, the man who ruled her heart till the end. Karna’s confession about his love for her is one of the best parts of this novel. This could have been one of the saddest love stories in history, actually went untouched to portray Draupadi in divine light, a dedicated wife, a Sati. Even at the end, she wasn’t a bereaved mother or a devoted wife or a deserving queen; she was just a lovelorn woman and a loyal friend.
This is my second book from Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni after The Mistress of Spices. As an ardent fan of Mahabharata, I read a lot of articles about the women characters from the epic, which made me more skeptical about trying this novel on Panchali’s life. But to my surprise, the author touched those parts of her existence, which many writers cautiously avoided. Her careless motherhood, her lonely childhood, her jealousy, her very earthly bonding with Krishna, and of course, her undying love for Karna… all these aspects made her more real, more vulnerable, and helped her to emerge as an unforgettable mortal, devoid of any divinity!
Satakshi is a cinephile, who loves to explore the world of literature in her leisure time! She draws her sustenance from movies and books and likes to connect with more and more people through them. She is the Editor of FilmSpell, a diverse and bottomless well of information about movies.