Palace of Illusions by Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni is a beautiful book which gives a woman’s perspective on a story that deals mainly with male characters i.e. the great epic, Mahabharata.
The book has been written from Draupadi’s, who was the wife of the 5 Pandava heroes in this epic, point of view. It throws light on her innermost thoughts and feelings, traced right from her childhood to her demise in the lap of the Himalayan mountains. It talks about her feelings about the strange in which way she was born – right out of a yagya (worship done around a holy fire, done to invoke “Agni” and other gods), her attitude towards her father who was much too blinded by his ambitions and revenges to even give her second glance, the mother she never had and her most beloved brother. It goes on to describe her rather strange marital relationship with all 5 of the Pandava brothers
and despite having 5 husbands, her love for Karna, the most unfortunate and tragic hero in the epic.
This book, quite relevant to today’s war torn world as well, narrates this novel in a beautiful mythical-magical fashion. Though it does talk about most of the events which took place in the original epic as well, the author has put in some beautiful imaginative twists of her own such as the intricacies of Draupadi and Kunti’s relationship, Draupadi’s secret longing for Karna and even addresses the question of whether Karna actually respected and loved her most, even more than any of her 5 husbands.
The Palace of Illusions is mainly a love story at its core. It has been written almost like a romantic novel, set in the times of the Mahabharata and focuses mainly on Draupadi’s strange interest towards Karna, even before her marriage, how she accepted being married to the Pandavas despite loving Karna and how she gradually taught herself to accede to her fate, though in her heart, it was always Karna who was most important. It is almost like a tragic love story – about two lovers who silently love each other through all the years of their lives, yet never confess it to each other and accept that their fates would never let them unite. Just like Draupadi, even Karna secretly longs for Draupadi and never marries anyone again, after being disallowed from contesting for her hand. Hence at the core of all the wars, revenges and mythical happenings, lies a silent and tragic love story between two people whose fates have intertwined in such a strange fashion, that they’ll never be able to be with each other in their current lives.
As a student of law however, the most important and fascinating aspect part of the book, in my opinion was the legal aspect of it. The ancient the Vedic society, to which all the characters belong, did not have any codified substantive and procedural laws, with the exception of the “Manu Smriti”. Despite this, the conduct of most men and women was prescribed by the strict and rigid laws of “Dharma” – the behavior which was seen fitting of the men and women of a particular caste. My project seeks to contrast these Dharmas with modern day laws.
My project shall deal with a number of facets of this book. I shall talk about the various characters, mainly Draupadi, Karna and the 5 Pandavas. The author’s history and personality shall also be discussed and finally, the main chapter of my project shall deal with an analysis of the ancient and mythical laws and “Dharmas” as mentioned in this book as against today’s modern and contemporary laws. The final part of my project shall deal with my own interpretation and analysis of this book as a student of literature.
Chapter 1: About the Author: Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award winning Indian-American author, poet, and the Betty and Gene McDavid Professor of Writing at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program. She was born and brought up in Kolkata after which she moved to USA to pursue he studies and got a master’s degree in English from...
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