Book: The Palace of Illusions
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publisher: Picador India
Genre: Mythology Fiction
First Published: 2008
Major Characters: Draupadi, Arjun, Bheem, Yudhisthir, Krishna, Karna, Duryodhan
Narration: First Person (Draupadi)
“A problem becomes a problem only if you believe it to be so. And often others see you as you see yourself.”
-Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Palace of Illusions
If you are an Indian, you probably have heard stories of Mahabharata innumerable times in your childhood. For those who don’t know about Mahabharata, it’s an ancient Indian epic that narrates the story of two groups of cousins- the Pandavas and the Kauravas – who battle for the throne in the Kurukshetra war. But, if one is asked about some great characters in this epic, they may tell Arjun, Krishna, Yudhishthir, Bheem, or Karna. Rarely anyone would say Draupadi, Kunti, or Gandhari, although their role in the story was equally crucial.
In the book Palace of Illusions, Chitra Banerjee did remarkable work by creating her version of Mahabharata. Events and their sequence are the same as the real Mahabharata; the only difference is that the story is narrated by Draupadi, one of the most significant characters of the epic.
When I was reading The Palace of Illusions, I was overwhelmed by the events because I hadn’t read Mahabharat thoroughly before and didn’t know its details. This book has all the details of Mahabharat, which would make anyone enjoy reading it. Further, the perspective of Draupadi makes it more interesting. What I loved the most was the wisdom and humor reflected in Krishna’s words.
‘Can’t you ever be serious?’ I said, mortified.
‘It’s difficult,’ he said. ‘There is so little in life that’s worth it.’
The story starts from the birth of Draupadi, takes you to the rise and fall throughout her life, and gives insights into her thoughts and emotions. The story clearly states the discrimination a girl child faces just because she is a female. Draupadi was no exception, and she felt like being in a cage while living in her father’s kingdom. You can feel yourself in place of Draupadi, living her life and seeing everything through her eyes.
The Place of Illusions is deep, and you would need to read it with concentration, or you may miss the hidden lessons. This is another best thing; the Palace of Illusions has several lessons that can help you in your life. I learned that one shouldn’t get too attached to materialistic things like a house, car, etc. because everything is temporary and would certainly pass away one day. Attachment is the cause of all sorrows. I learned that no one is perfect, everyone has some dark side, and we shouldn’t judge people because we rarely know their complete story.
The climax of the story is the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas. When I was reading this, I got stressed as if I was going to fight in it. As is expected from war, both sides paid an equal price. Pandavas won the war, but they were nearly dead, not physically but emotionally. Death is another puzzle we all ignore, and when faced with it, we fear. You can certainly get some great lesson about how to overcome the fear of death.
The story ends at Draupadi’s death, and the way it is explained is worth reading. All said, The Palace of Illusions is one of the greatest mythological books I have ever read, and you must go for it.