The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is a poignant presentation of the story of the great Indian epic Mahabharata from the point of view Draupadi. Rereading the ancient texts like Mahabharata, Ramayana and Sakuntala always leads to rewarding experiences. Sage Vyasa’s Mahabharata is such a bounteous treasure house that discerning writers can come out with precious rich jewels every time they make a serious and sincere search. Ajaya: Roll of the Dice by Anand Neelakantan; Karna’s Wife: The Outcast Queen by Kavita Kane; The Rise of Hastinapur by Sharath Komarraju; Yuganta: The End of an Epoch by Irawati Karve and Bhima, the Man in the Shadows by Vikash Singh are some of the innumerable versions of the epic along with that of Chitra Banerjee’s The Palace of Illusions. Chitra Banerjee has greatly succeeded in her attempt to re-write the timeless tale of Mahabharata with full of political intrigues, internecine war, passionate love, burning lust, treachery, death and salvation.
Sage Vyasa’s Mahabharata is such a bounteous treasure house that discerning writers can come out with precious rich jewels every time they make a serious and sincere search.
Chitra Banerjee, an Indian American author, is professor of Creative Writing at Houston University. Born and brought up in Kolkata, India, she went to the USA for her higher studies and now is settled in Houston, Texas. Chitra Banerjee has made an indelible mark as a writer of novels, short stories, poems and essays. She also leads from the front in many social organizations serving the cause of the Asian communities in the USA. Two of her novels, The Mistress of Spices and Sister of My Heart have been made into movies. She has tried various genres like realistic fiction, historical fiction, magical realism and fantasy and what all she has touched, she has adorned and received accolades. Her works have been translated into many languages, including Bengali.
The Palace of Illusions is a first-person narrative as Draupadi delineates her story right from her genesis. Her birth itself is a mystery as she and her brother Dhristadyumna come out from the holy fire as young adults thereby losing their childhood. She is astonished to hear the words of the soothsayer who rightly predicts her future. “You will marry the five greatest heroes of your time. You will be the queen of queens, envied even by the goddess. You will be a servant maid. You will be the mistress of the most magical of palaces and then lose it. You will be causing the greatest war of your time. You will bring about the deaths of evil kings-and your children’s and your brothers’. A million women will become widows because of you. Yes, indeed you will leave a mark on history”. As all these forebodings come true, Draupadi accepts life as it comes to her undeterred by sorrows that come in battalions. She faces the challenges of life as a stoic with the amazing temperament of ‘readiness is all’.
As her dream project, the palace, is being built by the great architect Mayan, she, as a connoisseur of art, takes extraordinary care to minute details. But alas! It’s only a transitory pleasure as her husband Yuthisthir loses everything to Saguni in the game of dice, the eternal path of ruin for men. As the beauty of Helen launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of the Greek world, the wrath of Draupadi brought to dust many a crown and kingdom on the banks of the river Ganga. As a true tragedy, the novel takes a full circle and ends where it began. The order is restored as the people of Hastinapur rebuild their life. Women take the lead and, in particular, Uttara, the widow of Abhimanyu, shows the way. She offers all her jewels to raise money for the rebuilding of the nation. Finally, the moment of death comes; comes peacefully as Draupadi feels the touch of Krishna who has been her friend, guide and philosopher throughout her life.