I have always been fascinated by stories even from the times I could not read them. I remember carrying books chasing my brother begging him to narrate them. Anyway thanks to Ramanandha Sagar, Ramayana and Mahabharata were easier to comprehend watching them visually, even with my limited Hindi knowledge. It gave faces to the characters in the epic, like how Sivaji gave a face to Karnan. How is this relevant to what I am going to talk about, it is, you need to remember this when you read the review below as well as when you read the book, which I think you will after reading the below..
Recently read ‘The Palace of Illusions’ by Chitra Divakaruni ( thanks to Mrs.Shangy for suggesting it and Mr & Mrs KV for meticulously getting the book for me)
This is the story of Mahabharata but from a perspective of Draupati / Panchali. I have always felt prejudiced by epics and mythological stories written by men predominantly portraying men as how they want while woman based on their opinion of what makes up a good women – be it a princess, a queen or a normal wife. I don’t think the writers of those times knew what woman wanted? it was their perspective and became the guideline to live up to.
This narration of Mahabharata from the eyes of Draupati is a welcome change, a perspective of a woman (sometimes even a feminist). Unlike what I imagined, life of a princess is not always as much fun or as comfortable. The book traces the lonely neglected childhood of Draupati, followed by her swayamvar which was merely a competition where she was the prize money. This is followed by her wedding to the one of the greatest hero of that time, Arjun, short-lived before she is told that she becomes wife of the 5 brothers because their mother said so ! duh !
She finally gets to be the queen of her own palace, the most beautiful and magical palace ever built, but loses it all to gambling of Yudhishter, stripped and humiliated in front of all the people she has ever loved and hated. She then spends 12 years in exile in the forest away from her kids, then another year in hiding, as a maid in one of the palaces. The book touches upon her very complicated relationship with Krishna and her unspoken love for the man, who is the deadliest enemy of her husband(s).
It is a fantastic narration of what does a woman goes through because of the different decisions, arrogance and priorities of the men in her life and is blamed for everything that has gone wrong. As much blame was put on Draupati as the reason for the war, what was her mind set during the war.
How did she watch the events of the 18 day war losing most of the people she had loved all her life and a millions of others because they stood by?
The vengeance in the heart of every single person in the war, the curses, the tricks the twists and finally the disasters.
This book also talks about the things that I had never thought about in the epic :
How does a queen or princess get dressed for a royal gathering ?
Why was Kunti so pedantic about the sons following her words and share a wife, why dint she simply laugh it off and move on ?
How was Kunti as a mother in law and how did the Draupati survive the control freak mother in law and her 5 husbands in the forest?
Do you think Kunti or one of the pandavas offered Draupati any domestic help while they were in the forest ?
Who did Draupati actually love ?
Who among the pandavas loved her the most ?
Did she manipulate the love ?
What was her feeling about her husbands marrying other women ?
With 5 husbands, kids and a loving brother why did she have to die alone ?
Did she ever regret what she had done in her life ?
What was her relationship with Krishna ?
What happens to the Yadu clan after the war ? How did the curse of Kandhari destroyed them ?
It is an interesting dimension to a well known story, a dimension I found very interesting – to the extent I want to watch the epic again and even the movie Karna J