Reviewed by Anna Kishore
The Mahabharata is one of the greatest epics to be written ever. It would be a rare case that there would be a person on the sub-continent who did not grow reading or hearing the stories from this epic. And based on these inputs each person would have their own questions, opinions and conclusions on the numerous characters and incidents of Mahabharata. For instance each time I heard or saw, I would wonder how could the queen of the blind king, Dhritarashtra, blindfold herself for life, when she heard that she was to be married to a blind prince? Or how could Princess Panchali agree to get married to all the five Pandavas? But the somewhere with the passing years these questions, images and interpretations got pushed back into one corner of my mind.
Then, a few days back, I came across this very interesting book while browsing in the library. The name of the book is The Palace of Illusions written by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The synopsis of the book given on the back intrigued me to read the book. It said the book was Mahabharata retold by the Princess of Panchal – Panchali, more commonly known as Draupadi. The story has been written in first person, as if being narrated by Draupadi herself. I was both, filled with curiosity to read the book and ready to find faults in the work. This was because, according to me, trying to give one’s own version to the epic which has stood the test of times is no mean task. But after reading the entire book, my critical mind was thoroughly impressed.
The character of Draupadi comes across as a strong, unconventional woman, who is caught in the customs and traditions of the society. But despite everything, within her limits how Draupadi manages to stand out and makes her mark in history. This has been narrated in an interesting as well as an inspiring manner.
From the very start the book holds the attention of the reader. The unusual way in which Draupadi is born into this world has been well described to capture the reader’s imagination. The emotions of a princess, who is born out of fire and who does not have anyone except her brother to call her own has been described in a manner such that one can empathise with her emotions. The pains and pleasures of being a princess, the doubts and thoughts that crosses the minds of even the greatest of princesses is very well handled. The attempt to portray Karna, the son of a charioteer and not Arjuna who actually won her hand for marriage, as the person whom the princess is actually attracted to is a good attempt to add a bit more of drama to the original work and thus make it entertaining.
The character of Krishna, which has little bit of divinity, a little bit of humanity, a little bit of chivalry and a little bit of slyness cannot be easily brought alive through words. But the cleverness of the author is evident in the way the complex character of Krishna can be visualised going through the various scenes of the story. The highlight was the famous or rather infamous scene, where Draupadi is dragged into the court room to be insulted in front of a large audience. In all the previous attempts of reproducing this particular scene, it was the divinity of Krishna, who is believed to be the incarnation of the Supreme power, has been glorified. But Chitra has used this scene to bring out the strength of her main character who is Draupadi. Her anguish and anxieties and her courage to question the wise men around and ask for justice was truly inspiring. Even in that moment of despair, her heart calling out not to her husbands but to the person, whom she is truly attracted to, to Karma, is indeed very bold. And last but not the least, her undying faith in Krishna whom, though, she looks upon more as friend than as a god accomplishes such feats that compels her to think or rather question his true identity.
Finally when her end is near, the author beautifully brings out the fear, the longings, the pains and pleasures that she goes through effectively. The reader is forced to look at this great Indian princess with new eyes. No doubt she is one the greatest princess of all times, but first and foremost is that she is a woman. And the book leaves you with the feeling that after all the great Draupadi, wife of the great Pandavas though did not have an ordinary life in many aspects still craved for things that every woman, no matter from which part of the society she comes from aspires for, like true love, recognition, attention and admiration from people around her.