Monday, 1 July 2013

BOOK REVIEW : The palace of illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Mahabharata is one mythological story which we all know very well and have grown up listening or reading it's various tales. I was around 10-11yrs old when I first heard about it from my grandmother who seemed very excited about Mahabharata being aired on Doordarshan every Sunday morning. And so developed a Sunday ritual at my place. Everyone would get up early, take a bath, have breakfast n then sit infront of the television to watch Mahabharata.
Mahabharata is an epic tale wherein the main theme is the fight against injustice and to act in accordance to your dharma. It is the story of the families of two brothers Dhritarashtra and Pandu, the Kauravas n the Pandavas and how their enemity ultimately leads to the bloody battle of Kurukshetra which brings an end to the Third Age of Man or  the Dvapar Yug, as per the Hindu scriptures.
Many authors have written about the varied and fascinating tales of Mahabharata. This book, though, is different. In this book the author talks about the Mahabharata through the eyes and emotions of Draupadi.
The book starts with the birth of Draupadi and her brother Dhristadyumna from the sacrificial fire of the great Yagna organized by king Drupad who wanted to take revenge from Drona, the great teacher of warcraft, who not only taught Kauravas and the Pandavs but even taught Dhristadyumna. Draupadi talks about her childhood which was very lonely and gloomy and how she always dreamt of getting married and going to a new ideal palace. The story moves ahead to her swayamvar where she snubs Karna and eventually gets married to Arjuna. She talks about the horrible way in which her new mother in law Kunti, gets her married to all her five sons  and the strange special code of marital conduct designed by sage Vyasa to foster harmony in the Pandava household. As Divakaruni writes, Draupadi says, "like a communal drinking cup, I would be passed from hand to hand whether I wanted it or not." Post marriage, Draupadi along with her husbands and her mother in law go to live in the royal palace of Hastinapur. But Draupadi could never settle there and  always had an intense desire for a palace of her own, which would be designed according to her choice. This heartfelt desire gets fulfilled when they shift to the barren Indraprashtha and the Pandavas ask the great Ashura magician Maya to build them the most beautiful palace. It was the most maginificient magical palace that shifted the settings strangely making the palace new each day. The Pandavas loved their palace but in the end it was their pride in this magical palace which made Duryodhana greedy for it leading to the infamous game of dice where the Pandavas lost everything. Yudhisthir, not only lost all his riches and the magical palace but also his brothers, himself and their wife Draupadi. It was Draupadi's humiliation by the Kaurava brothers in the royal court of Hastinapur that made her vindictive and so determined to take her  revenge from the Kauravas. It was she who with her open, matted hair, her sharp comments and taunts never made the five Pandavas forget her humiliation during their long exile of thirteen years. When even after the exile Duryodhana refused to give back Indraprashtha to the Pandavas, it lead to the bloodiest battle of that age which wreck destruction, both physical and emotional, of a magnitude never imagined before. Though technically the Pandavas won the battle of Kurukshetra but in reality, they had lost all that mattered to them- their sons, their beloved family members, their values n the righteousness which Yudhisthir always prided on.
Divakaruni is undoubtedly a master storyteller. This take on Mahabharata from Draupadi's perspective is a refreshing change and makes the reader view the Mahabharata from a totally different angle. To read about a young Draupadi, a lonely motherless princess who has never received any love or affection from her father and how this craving for love, fame and power changes the life of Draupadi as well as those around her, is a sheer delight. It is intriguing to read how Draupadi was so ruled by the prophecy, which was made at the time of her birth. At the same time it is inspiring to know that inspite of all her hardships, she faced life like a regal queen stoically without begging for forgiveness or sympathy.
A must read for all those who love the mythological tales with a strong female protagonist.