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Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, the writer of this novel , earlier wrote the bestselling novel ' The Mistress of Spices ' which was made into a film starring actress Aishwariya Rai in the leading role.. Chitra teaches creative writing at the university of Houston and divides her time between Houston and San Francisco..
The Palace of Illusions is a simple tale Narrated by Panchaali or Draupadi the wife of the five Panadava brothers . The Palace of Illusions gives a woman's take on the timeless tale which is the great Indian epic ' The Mahabharata'. The book traces Panchaali's life from her birth, lonely childhood , marriage, motherhood and her own role in the Kurukshetra war. It is the story of a woman born into a man's world , and her struggle to maintain her dignity and self respect.
At the core of the epic Mahabharata lies the fierce rivalry between Kauravas and Panadavas both belonging to the Kuru dynasty. The life long struggle between the 2 rivals for the throne of Hastnapura culminates in the bloody battle of Kurukshetra , in which most kings of that period participated and perished. In this epic tale the women characters remained shadowy , their roles subservient to those of their fathers, husbands , brothers or sons..Chitra tries to uncover the story of Draupadi untold, between the lines of the epic Mahabharata . It is her life, her thoughts, her version and her voice that comes across in this book as told by her. It is Draupadi telling her story in her own unique way, the way she saw the world around her and her questioning and at times detesting her place in it. A unique story ..
== The story ==
It is essentially Draupadi's story since the time she came into this world as an offspring of vengence, but according to her Dhai Ma ( Nurse maid ) who she was very close to , came ' uninvited ' into this world. According to legend Draupadi and her brother Drishtadyumna stepped out of the sacrificial fire . King Drupad waiting to have his revenge was offering prayers to Agni , the fire god after fasting for nearly a month. On the last day of the ' Yagna ' ( Sacrificial fire accompanied by chanting of mantras) he was blessed with the two children who emerged out of the holy fire..
Draupadi is confined to her palace where she grows up alone in the company of her Dhai Ma and her beloved brother. She resents her father for segregating her and her brother from the main palace wing. She grows up thirsting for company and to know about the world outside.
She is named Panchali by the great sage Vyasa who predicts a violent future for her. He advises her and tells her that she will face three dangerous moments later in her life and asks her to deal with them with restraint which perhaps might mitigate the catastrophes to come in her life..
With the help of her doting Dai Ma and brother she grows up to be a confident and beautiful young woman, who develops a special relationship and friendship with the enigmatic Krishna, from whom she draws inner strength. She is constantly mesmerised by him and his words of wisdom. As she matures she becomes more and more dependent on Krishna..
She meets Karna and is fascinated by his brooding personality , strength and looks. Unfortunately, destiny had other things in store for her and Karna .She becomes the wife of the five Pandava brothers , who were waiting to take revenge on the Kauravas. Karna becomes close to the Kauravas especially Duryodana the arch rival of the Pandavas
== My views about the book ==
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is witty and written from a woman's point of view..Chitra has written a deeply human story about a woman who is torn by every emotion possible, remains strong and unforgiving, but at the same time is vulnerable where her loved ones are concerned.
I loved the way she has traced Draupadi's relationship with her beloved brother who remains her only true friend and companion, but destiny and life willed other things for them. It is also interesting to read about her special relationship with Krishna, who she is unable to understand ,and her fascination and deep attraction for Karna, who is the step brother of the Panadavas.The complex nature of her status, being the wife of the Five Pandava brothers , being mocked at by the Kauravas , has been sensitively handled by Chitra as she narrates the story through Draupadi's words. Draupadi comes across as a strong willed woman , caught up in a life that is filled with danger and deceit..
One cannot but ignore Karna, who is the tragic hero of Mahabharata. He is shunned by the Kshatria kings , who constantly made fun of him and the great Saint Ashwathama who curses him . He loves Draupadi, but is unable to marry her because of his unknown ancestry. Krishna is the only one who understands and sympathises with him, but , believes that karma and his destiny cannot be changed. To this day, we Hindus take the easy way out, blaming Karma and Destiny for all the misfortunes in our life..
' The Palace of illusions' is a romantic tale of Draupadi and Karna who never shared any intimacy but were drawn to each other all their life. Draupadi and Karna are both destiny's children having faced hardships all their life . Draupadi was haunted by Karna's memories even when she remained married to the Panadavas and carried on her duties as the queen and queen mother of a powerful dynasty..There is a deep sense of regret, sorrow and detachment in Draupadi' s tale .
I loved certain expressions used by Chitra - ' When a man reaches a state where honor and dishonor are alike to him, then he is considered supreme' and ' War is like an avalanche, once begun it cannot cease until it has wreaked all the destruction it is capable of ' and finally ' How little we know of our own reputations'..
A fantastic book that keeps one totally engrossed..
( This review has earlier been posted on Ciao)