As much as I love reading, books like the “Mahabharata” and “Ramayana” never caught my interest, maybe because of how male dominated they are. The epics, if we notice are mostly male-centric, even though the women play very important roles in them. However, after reading “The Palace Of Illusions” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, my whole perception changed.
“The Palace Of Illusions” is written from the point of view of Draupadi, also known as Panchaali. The woman whose scalding tongue is held responsible for the greatest ever bloodshed in the battle of Kurukshetra. It brings to light her survival skills in a highly patriarchal world. I could feel her pain, when she was made to marry Arjuna and give up her true love, Karna. All made possible through carefully crafted Swayamvara. Since time immemorial, women have been given away to men, and no consideration is given to their desires.
Perhaps, that’s why the author, being a woman herself, has been able to portrayDraupadi’s emotions more practically than the actual “Mahabharta” ever did. Her resentment towards her mother-in-law for making the Pandavas share her shows her as a wronged daughter-in-law. The unknowing pure love that Draupadi feels for Krishna struck me more vehemently than Meera Bai’s bhajans ever could. And her lost love for Karna still pierces my heart.
I could relate to the emotional upheaval Draupadi undergoes throughout her childhood, her youth and old age. The time she was bodily insulted in front of all those men is also something every woman can relate to. We soon realise that even if her vengeance is not justified, it was caused by all that she had to suffer through, the humiliation she faced, and the indifference displayed by those around her, including her husbands and her love. These sneak peeks into her life describe her anger in much better terms than all the events in the “Mahabharata” ever did. And at last, the battle at Kurukshetra where she got her revenge but lost her her soul tries to soothe our burning hearts.
Who said feminism is a 20th-century phenomenon? I urge you to pick up “The Palace Of Illusions” which throws light on the life of its incredible heroine Draupadi. Her brave and strong personality doesn’t get shielded in the “Mahabharata”. Where most books fail to portray the complexity of Draupadi, this one makes the reader question the fairness of the societal rules. Rules that force her to hide her love for Karna and accept her role as the wife of five husbands.
Surprisingly, Draupadi is not the only female character depicted with a powerful and enduring personality. Kunti, the mother who had to abandon her first son, face all kinds of struggles to make sure her five sons lived, only to watch her first born get killed by his own brother, gets a compelling portrayal. Gandhari, out of devotion to her blind husband, kept herself blindfolded for him. She is portrayed as a strong-willed woman who always stood for what was right, even when her sons were on the wrong side. The list of powerful females in this book is a very long one. This novel is a must-read for everyone who believes in the power of women and more importantly for everyone who doesn’t!