‘The Palace of Illusions’ is a retelling of Mahabharata from Panchaali’s point of view. The author gives us a new interpretation of the ancient tale which is narrated by Panchaali, the wife of the legendary Pandavas and traces her journey from the moment of her birth in fire to her falling down in the Himalayas.
The novel traces the extraordinary life of the enigmatic Panchaali or Draupadi who was born for a higher purpose. A surprising turn of events led her marriage to the five Pandavas who had been cheated out of their father’s kingdom by their ambitious cousin Duryodhana. After long years of exile, a little respite comes to her during her years in Indraprastha where she lives in her majestic palace built by the illusionary Maya. This palace of illusions is where Panchaali truly feels at home but it is this very palace where seeds of bitter revenge are sown in the hearts of Kauravas for their cousins. When Panchaali is dishonoured in the royal assembly of Hastinapur, she curses the Kuru clan and becomes the reason for a terrible civil war that was fought bringing unparalleled destruction and bloodshed.
I was so eager to read the book after reading innumerable praises and reviews online. I picked up the book with high expectations as the story itself held much potential. Panchaali is a fiery female who redefined the course of history. However, the book proved to be quite a letdown as it tries to encompass the whole epic but with major deviations from the original story.
In fact, it’s better to call the book as fan fiction rather than a retelling of Mahabharta. Panchaali is described as an immature, short-tempered and jealous woman who is thirsty for revenge. As if that’s not enough, she has a bitter relationship with her mother-in-law Queen Kunti. Now Queen Kunti is a revered character who solely brought up her five sons and raised them to be the finest and bravest warriors of the era. But the author has portrayed her as a dominating mother who is insecure of her daughter-in-law. The most ridiculous episode is the one where she asks Panchaali to cook brinjal but doesn’t give her the required ingredients. But Panchaali manages to cook a perfect dish and when the husbands praise the food, she considers it as her first victory over Kunti.
Throughout the book, Panchaali is pining for Karna whom she had rejected during her swayamvar. This imaginary love story of Panchaali and Karna is totally unnecessary and highly annoying too. At every point, Panchaali is yearning for a glimpse of Karna and craves for an appreciative glance from him. And the scene of her soul uniting with Karna in heaven sounds like it has been lifted from 90s high school sitcoms …Heights of absurdity! Panchali gets divine vision to see the happenings in the war- yet another deviation from Mahabharta. I wish the author had stayed true to the original story and then it would have been a really enjoyable book.
The high point for me in the book is the portrayal of the beautiful friendship of Panchaali with the divine Krishna. Krishna wafts in like a fragrance and lingers on after he has left leaving Panchaali pondering over His ambiguous words of wisdom. He has a special bond with everyone she knows well but yet she believes herself to be His dearest friend. He calls her ‘sakhi’ or ‘Krishnaa’, the female version of His own name. When in distress, Panchaali can think of nobody else but Krishna and He is always there for her just as He is always there for His true devotees.
You might like the book if you are not bothered with the liberties the author has taken with the story. However, I felt that the Panchaali-Karna love story was just a marketing gimmick of intriguing the readers which I couldn’t relate to at all. For someone looking for an introduction to Mahabharta, this book is a big NO. The book is quite shallow and vapid. I won’t recommend this book to anyone simply because in the name of presenting Draupadi’s point of view, the author has distorted the grand epic and reduced Draupdai’s dignified character to that of a petty woman.
Title: The Palace of Illusions
Originally published: 1 January 2008
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Genres: Historical Fiction
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