The Palace Of Illusions

by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Read time: about 5 minutes

It is funny now that I go back to my first encounter with the Book. I had just finished my internship in Auroville. I was exhilarated with the experience and I wanted to read more about architecture. While I was looking for books to read on architecture I came across ‘The Palace Of Illusions’. I was completely in awe with the cover until I realised this wasn’t anything on building science but a retelling Of Mahabharata!

Even though this book is not architecture, it is still one of the best books I have read on mythology. Thanks to the Mumbai Bookstagram Book club, I have read this sooner than later.

Cover: The Palace Of Illusions

Cover page

I was blown away by the cover, for obvious reasons. It’s beautiful! The Palace Of Illusions with a emerald gateway in all its royalty! The publishers have done a wonderful job with the cover.

Characters

There are plenty. There are the five Pandav brothers. There are the Kauravs in all their arrogance. There are the mute spectators of the war and there are those who reluctantly participated in it. In short you will find all the characters of Mahabharata in this if you have read or watched it before.

But this time, it is Panchali from whose point of view we are seeing the Mahabharata. Panchali was never the kind to cower and have her life dictated by the men. She was a responsible wife and a great daughter-in-law for the most part of the Mahabharata but she was a woman foremost. She was a feminist who believed in her destiny was intertwined with the men and she was not just the side kick in her story.

Panchali is seen in this book like she has never been before

Content

Panchali’s Mahabharata begins with her birth. She is birthed from fire along with her brother Dhri. Dhri was the wanted one, Panchali was just a blessing on the side. Even though, it was prophesied that she will be the one changing the destiny of those around her, she did not receive much attention from anyone around the Palace.

Panchali soon educated herself in the matter of the state, knowing that it would come handy when some day she would be the queen. In all her curiosity, she meets sage Vyas who tells her she would marry five men who would set up the most prosperous of the states in Bharat.

You will marry the five greatest heroes of your time. You will be queen of queens, envied even by goddesses. You will be a servant maid. You will be mistress of the most magical of palaces and then lose it. You will be remembered for causing the greatest war of your time. You will bring about the deaths of evil kings—and your children’s, and your brother’s. A million women will become widows because of you. Yes, indeed, you will leave a mark on history. You will be loved, though you will not always recognize who loves you. Despite your five husbands, you will die alone, abandoned at the end—and yet not so.

The regular Mahabharata begins from Panchali’s swayamwar where she insults Karna and marries Arjun instead.

The story stays true to the original

Mahabharata that we have all grown reading/watching. It is just from the perspective of Panchali. A woman who is forced to marry five men because of a mother-in-law’s insistence. Her five husbands putting the codes of conduct always before her. She becomes the ideal wife, God knows it is five times as difficult. But all along she is in love with a man she can never be with.

With all the blame on her only she truly knows that she had less part to play in the Great War than the egos of the men around. Each wanted to be stronger, richer, marry prettier woman and be called the greatest men. And when it all led to war, she was convenient to blame.

During her dying days Panchali reflects on her life and she only finds Krishna on her side, all the five husbands leave her behind.

I loved the book through and through. I disliked the last days of Panchali. She did not deserve to suffer the way she did. One will find sympathy towards her. I for one love Ramayan more than Mahabharata, but after this version, I am not sure!

Language

The language is utterly simple. The magic comes in story telling. Divakaruni is a great storyteller. She knows where to prolong and where to put a stop. I didn’t get bored with the drama unlike other mythology I have read before.

Good points

I absolutely loved the cover. It was the first thing that drew me to the book. The character of Panchali has so much depth in her. I loved reading from her perspective. The content is the same as other versions of Mahabharat, only better told. Divakaruni knows how to tell a story better that you have already known before.

Bad points

At this point I can’t think of any. Maybe when I discuss the book with the book club I will get to learn more about the book and discover it’s flaws.

Overall

I absolutely loved the book. Much recommended.

Whom do I recommend this to

This book is for mythology enthusiasts. Those who love good story telling are going to like it too.

Quotable Quotes

Perhaps the reason Krishna and I got along so well was that we were both severely dark-skinned. In a society that looked down its patrician nose on anything except milk-and-almond hues, this was considered most unfortunate, especially for a girl. I paid for it by spending hour upon excruciating hour being slathered in skin-whitening unguents and scrubbed with numerous exfoliants by my industrious nurse. But finally she’d given up in despair. I, too, might have despaired if it hadn’t been for Krishna.

“A problem becomes a problem only if you believe it to be so. And often others see you as you see yourself.”

I’m the one who decides to whom I belong.

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Veena Choudhary

An avid reader and history fanatic.

Mumbai, MH merakipost.com