The Indian Mythology Retelling That Will Leave You Gasping in Awe

What’s so special about ‘The Palace of Illusions’ by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and why you should read it.

The Indian Mythology Retelling That Will Leave You Gasping in Awe
Image from Anangsha’s Instagram

What’s so special about ‘The Palace of Illusions’ by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and why you should read it.

During my last trip, I was walking around the City Palace in Jaipur when I spotted a beautiful gate.

It was located inside a courtyard of the palace called the Pritam Niwas Chowk. I got excited because this gate appears on the cover of the book I was currently reading — The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

I was about 75% into the book by then, and so engrossed in the story, that spotting the gate made me teary-eyed with emotion. Of course, I had to pose in front of the gate and immortalize that moment for posterity.

This post is about this gem of a book — The Palace of Illusions — what it’s about, why it got me so emotional, and why you should read it.

Image: Goodreads

What The Book is About

The Palace of Illusions is a retelling of the great epic Mahabharata, told through the eyes of Draupadi — the queen of the five Pandava brothers.

She was one woman married to five men. The five husbands who vowed to protect her for life got drunk one night with their cousins and gambled her in a game of dice.

They lost, and hence, lost all rights over her.

Draupadi is then humiliated by her husbands’ cousins as they try to pull off her clothing in a court full of men. She swears vengeance, promising not to wash her hair until she bathes it in the blood of every man present in the court who took relish in her humiliation.

What then ensues is a 15-year-long story of revenge and love, of crushed hopes and buried dreams. It culminates in the great battle of Hastinapur that brought Gods down from the heavens and caused so much destruction, that it brought about the end of the Third Age of Men.

My Take on the Book

With so much fiery passion involved, Draupadi’s story, as expected, is grand.

The range of emotions it contains is of epic proportions. They made my heart beat faster and root so hard for the characters, that I was tearing through the pages in my rush to know what happens at the end.

Mind you, this is a story I’ve grown up listening to. I already know who lives and who dies when the great war is over. But such was the author’s power of storytelling, that I was hooked throughout.

The Palace of Illusions contains a story of impossibly high odds, executed to perfection by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

I was so engrossed in the book, that I finished 80% of this 360-page book in 24 hours. I was traveling that day and had been through four airports in one day. This story kept me company and helped me retain my sanity.

Things to Note Before You Read

If you’ve never heard of the Mahabharata, you can dive right in with no expectations. The book can be read like a fictional story, and you’ll find yourself loving every bit of it as the tale progresses.

If, however, you’re familiar with the story of the Mahabharata, this might be a difficult book to read as you’d be forced to let go of all your preconceived notions about the epic battle and the characters involved.

Since Panchaali (Draupadi, after her re-christening) is born much later than the events in the Mahabharata start, her story has a different beginning. Only much later, does she learn of the important players like the Pandavas, the Kauravas, Kunti, and Krishna (even though Krishna, being the subtle string-puller that he is, was present in her and her father’s lives the entire time, slowly manipulating them into believing in the Pandavas).

If you’re familiar with the events of the Mahabharata, you’d know most of what had happened. But the book has some intimate insights into a woman’s mind and how her thoughts work.

It’s fascinating to read about how Panchaali accepted her karma and played the parts of the ideal wife and the mother dutifully. But even then, she had her own ambitions and agenda, which kept bubbling up to the surface every now and then, causing major disruption in the world around her.

Portrayed as a fiercely proud woman in all of Mahabharata, here, we get a glimpse into what makes Panchaali so proud and so sure that some great powers will move mountains to come to her rescue when she calls upon them.

Why You Should Read It

If you’d like a refreshing break from contemporary fiction, self-help, and classics, this is an excellent book to pick up. Not only does it throw some light into the culture, rituals, and practices of ancient India, but it’s also a strong and unabashed portrayal of the feminine divinity in a world dominated by men.

If you’ve heard of the hype this book garnered on Instagram but were too skeptical to pick it up, consider this as your sign to start reading it immediately.

The Palace of Illusions is a heart-rending story and you have to read it at one stretch to absorb its magnificence in its full glory. This is a book that demands your attention; that will rip your heart out of your chest and make you shocked and elated in equal measure.

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