Novel: The Palace of Illusions
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
First published in: 2008
Storyline: Draupadi born from fire to King Drupad was a feminist since her childhood, always arguing over different rules set for her and her brother. While her brother ‘Dhri’ was taught all war arts, she had to sit behind curtains and involve herself in ‘homely’ activates like stitching, learning to dress herself up and upholding all the duties and conducts of a princess.
When married, she ends up marrying all 5 brothers instead of just the one whom she had chosen in the ‘Swayamvar’ when her mother in law commits the blunder of commanding her sons to share whatever they have brought without looking at what or who they had brought. The brothers were in exile at the time due to being ousted from their own kingdom by opposing cousin brothers. Draupadi was pulled in the whole journey of Pandavas to reclaim their kingdom. Once back from exile her husbands lose all their belongings including Draupadi to the notorious cousins in gambling.
Apart from this quest set upon her due to her husbands, the story reveals the feelings Draupadi had for one of the enemies of her husbands, her thoughts about all her husbands – their qualities and their shortcomings, her lack of attachment with her mother in law, her wonderful friendship with Lord Krishna and her undying love for her brother Dhri.
I have not read many mythological books so I wasn’t sure of this pick but I am glad I read this. This depicts the life story of Draupadi from her birth from fire to her death while walking the stairs of heaven. Everything that we know about Pandavas and their story is from Draupadi’s perspective. For those who are not familiar with the epic ‘Mahabharata’, Draupadi was the main character who unknowingly caused the biggest war of those times and she was also the only who witnessed the whole war with her own eyes.
The whole story is combination of myth, history and fiction. It touches upon how in India the birth of a daughter was perceived, the definition of beauty that is set for a woman, the way a woman is expected to follow her husband and many other such aspects which are still true to some extent.
The author has very cleverly put Draupadi’s point of view within the original saga.
But being a woman, I loved Draupadi’s perspective of the epic which hails Pandavas as great rulers having great qualities. But Draupadi’s take explores how sometimes these virtues of Pandava brothers and their mother were imprudent and senseless. When you think about it, Pandavas were not as great as they are hailed out to be, the torture they put Draupadi through, the eldest Pandava’s addiction to gambling diminishes their goodness.