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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Draupadi's Mahabharata!

Book: The Palace of Illusions
Author: Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Publisher: Picador
Price: Rs 525 
Pages: 360

A helpless woman pleads to a court of people to save her honour. But even the demi-gods, her husbands, the heroes of her time and the times that will follow, remain silent. Dejected she thinks of her beloved friend so she will be distracted from the pain that fills her. He comes to her rescue but only just. For, the endurance brings with it hatred. She curses her wrong-doers, a curse that will bring upon the greatest war mankind has ever known.

From this point, Draupadi is lost in the Mahabharata. She surfaces a few times here and there, but the story revolves around the valour of men and the vengeance they seek. Little is known of her in the traditional adaptations of the epic, though most give copious descriptions of how Arjun won her at her Swayamvar. The Palace of Illusions, narrated by Draupadi aka Panchaali, finally gives a woman's take on the Mahabharata. It describes her fiery birth and lonely childhood, where her beloved brother Dhristadyumna (Dhri) is her only true companion, her complicated relationship with the enigmatic Krishna, her marriage to the five Pandava brothers and inspite of that, her secret attraction to their greatest enemy, Karna.

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has managed to turn the age-old epic around into a story of a woman born into a man's world. It's a remarkable feat, for it opens up new channels for the interpretation of the Mahabharata. Since the women in those days lived in the purdah, Draupadi's narration gives us a slice of the life of the wives, the maids, the mothers and the widows. Divakaruni's female characters — Kunti, Gandhari, Draupadi, Hidimba and Subhadra — are very strong and give us a better understanding of Duryodhan's insecurity, why the Pandavas shared Draupadi as their wife and why the events unfolded the way they did in the great epic.  Contemporary and engaging, The Palace of Illusions is a must-read. 

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