January 26, 2019

The Palace of Illusions

Inside the mind of the fire-born one

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni delves into the mind of Draupadi, arguably Indian mythology's most enigmatic characters, and presents her perspective of the times.

On the blurb, it was pitched as a retelling of the Mahabharata from Draupadi's point of view. But that isn't entirely accurate. Episodes and scenes of the Mahabharata are described, but only as far as necessary to set the context. The real purpose here is to explore Draupadi's mind, her thoughts and emotions through singular moments in the Mahabharata.

There are some nice alternative interpretations, specifically the angle about how she is obsessed with Karna. There were a number of criticisms of that. A very intuitive take on her relationship with Kunti is presented. Vyasa never stops to explore how Kunti's "share equally" diktat is received by Draupadi, or how that would colour Draupadi's interactions with her mother-in-law.

On the whole, the book was very insightful and thoughtful. In parts, it seemed that Draupadi came across as shallow and petty, rather than high-minded and stoic as all prior interpretations would have us believe. This left me a little unhappy briefly.

But then, over the book, Draupadi grows into her own and becomes the woman that we know. This makes sense too. One isn't born with wisdom of years. The wise were young once, and presumably, much less wiser.

A nice read, I'm glad I picked this one.