Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

palaceTold from the perspective of the most controversial character of Mahabharata, The Place of Illusions is Draupadi’s retelling of Mahabharata.

Tracing her story right from the time, she stepped out of that yagna shala, this is a beautiful, poignant and a haunting tale of a Princess who was fated to cause a great war. In the palace of Panchala, Draupadi is prepared to play her role in the grand scheme of things that would finally lead to the great war. Brought up by the wise and preceptive Daima, Draupadi’s quest for love remains unfulfilled.

But as fate would have it, she innocently falls in love with the wrong man. A man with a cursed destiny who could never aspire to marry her. And whenever their paths cross, she unintentionally offends him that brings upon the additional weight of guilt and agony for her.

I enjoyed the subtle war of words that she has with Kunti, her mother-in-law and the dynamics of changing relationships.

Uprooted from the only home that she had ever known, she moves to Hastinapura’s grand palace. But neither the riches not the grandeur make her feel at home.  When she moves to Khandava with her five husbands in tow where maya builds a palace so beautiful and mystical and for the first time in her life she experiences joy, bliss and also peace to a large measure. Alas it was a palace of illusions.

Divakaruni captures the pathos of Panchali as she becomes the queen of five powerful men, only to be derided and shamed by the Kauravas. The worst of it was that, the shameful disrobing that Dushasana attempted was brought on by a careless comment from the very man she loved.

I loved the Dai Ma’s character whose selfless love for Draupadi was very heartwarming. And she also turns out to be the most perceptive characters in the book who understood her very well, apart from Krishna and Vyasa

With a simple narrative style and language, the story progresses from point to point seamlessly. The portions of the epic where Draupadi can’t have witnessed is narrated by the protagonist just as it happened.

Since the climax of the book is the war, Vyasa grants Draupadi the divine vision to see it as it unfolds. This is not in the epic however the author has taken some poetic license here to bring us the war from her perspective.

A beautiful rendition that will leave you pondering over the questions of destiny and our choices that shape it, this is a must-read for those who love all things mythological.

Plus Points: Strong characterization of Draupadi

Minus Points: Though there are many legends about Draupadi’s love for Karna, Vyasa’s Mahabharata does not talk about it. If you do not agree or like this possibility, this book may not work for you.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Overall Verdict: Must read

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About sumeethamanikandan

Sumeetha Manikandan, a freelance content writer is an English literature graduate with a journalism and mass communication diploma. She lives in Chennai with her husband and daughter. After a decade long career in dotcom industry, she started working as a content writer from home. She wrote her debut novel, ‘The Perfect Groom’ as a script for a serial, which she converted into a novella for Indireads.
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