The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Indian mythology. And yet again, it never stops to mesmerize me and hold me in its clutches.

The Palace of Illusions is a retelling of the Mahabharat – The greatest story ever to be written. What makes this particular retelling different from the others? Here, we get to see the story unfurl from the eyes of Draupadi*.

*For those of you who are new to the world of Mahabharat, Draupadi is the Queen of the Pandavas (Yudhishtir, Bheem, Arjun, Nakul & Sahadev), to avenge whose honor the Battle of Kurukshetra, claimed to be the greatest battle of all times, is fought. The Pandavas are the heirs to the throne of Hastinapur, the capital of the Kuru Empire, which has actually descended from the Lunar Dynasty of Kings, the Chandravamshis.

Now, I am a fan of Mahabharat. More than Ramayan, I love how the characters in this story of epic proportions all appear to be human. Well, ya.. they do have some super gifts and talents. But all of them have their shades of grey. Not one person is entirely perfect. This is perhaps why one can relate to the characters in it. And another reason to love Mahabharat – you have Krishna*!! Be it the way he bends the rules, or the way he knows to get things done, or the way he smiles – no matter what, you can just not be without admiring this guy.

*Krishna is believed to be the 9th incarnation of Vishnu, the incarnation that comes into this world after the story of Ram, with Ram, regarded as the 8th incarnation

Seeing things from the eyes of Draupadi is really bound to throw a different dimension into one’s understanding of the epic – an evolved understanding. It did so to me. From the moment of her birth into this world to the moment she left it, one can come across different nuances of her thoughts. Draupadi has always been portrayed as a free-willed girl, who then becomes a strong-willed wife, and ensures the success of her five husbands through thick and thin. It is no secret that she favored Arjun over the other four Pandavas. And it is also no secret that though she chose Arjun over Karna at her Swayamvar, she loved Karna more. This book dwells more on how though she is married to the Pandavas, she continues to be in love with Karna (something that was never told to us at any point in time during our childhood). The book also explores the beautiful brother-sister bond between herself and Dhri, her twin brother.

The book, as with every other version of Mahabharat, does stress on the fact that nothing is permanent. One moment you wish for Karna, but end up marrying the Pandavas; one moment you are the Queen of the most enviable Palace in the world, the Palace of Illusions, and the next, it is snatched from you, and you are made to live as a pauper; one moment you have people waiting on you, and the next you are made to wait on someone. And most importantly, what you wished to have all your life may not be that great when you finally get it.

Were I to go on, I would end up narrating the entire Mahabharat along with Draupadi’s point of view on things.

The Palace of Illusions makes a delightful read.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has done a fantastic job!

So whether you have read or watched or listened to the Mahabharat in any of its numerous versions (or not), you are bound to enjoy reading this one. Have fun! Life is but a Palace of Illusions!

Favorites from the book:

Line– “Wisdom that isn’t distilled in our own crucible can’t help us.”

Character– Krishna  And Arjun.. 🙂 (I have always liked Arjun, though in this book he does play only a cameo role)

And Draupadi, of course. It is her story, after all!

Takeaways– Nothing lasts forever. Everything is an illusion. Life = Palace of Illusions.

Life is a Palace of Illusions!
Life is a Palace of Illusions!

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