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PALACE OF ILLUSIONS by CHITRA BANERJEE DEVAKARUNI

Devakaruni’s best-selling novel ‘Palace of Illusions’ is a retelling of India’s biggest existing epic – The Mahabharatha, in the point of view of the most powerful, bold woman, who always wanted to be a man; who was trapped in the loneliness, saved only by her brother and Dhai ma; who was married to 5 men, all who were considered as the heroes of the time – Panchaali.

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Generally, the society had never accepted Panchaali as an ideal woman. She had not been given that special place in the society like any other women we read about in epics and legends. We can understand that by noticing that not many girls are called Draupati or Panchaali. Infact, she is considered  a curse and is called a ‘kritya’, which means the one who brings doom to a clan. But this work of Devakaruni brings a different outlook on Panchaali.

The first decision of retelling it in Panchaali’s point of view itself is a way ahead, for it is the first time this tale had been retold in a woman’s perspective. Generally, this epic had always portrayed the men as heroes. Panchaali had always been portrayed as unlucky and the one who is driven by society. Not only her, but all the women characters such as Gandhari or Kunti. But this story portrays Panchaali as a powerful, strong and an independent woman who feels that she is equal to men. Devakaruni has portrayed Panchaali as a woman who makes her own decisions no matter what, and not driven by the people around her.

This novel provides a complete narrative perspective of Panchaali, which is different from the original written by Ved Vyas. This goes on to establish the equality of men and women in a society.

Told in the first person, Divakaruni’s tale takes us through the epic in Draupadi’s voice. From being born of the sacrificial fire (thus her beautiful nameYajnaseni’, though the author doesn’t use it, preferring ‘Panchali’, to her strange, lonely childhood, her tricky marriage to five men with a persecution problem and a control freak mother, her own, lovely home at last, and then the unbelievable traumas that follow that nobody should have to go through.

The story strongly portrays how women are being outcasted and treated as sweet nothings. This is not just a fiction, but also the real scene of the women in today’s world too. ‘Women harrasment’ has become a regular incident that happens today. This story speaks about a woman, who is so powerful to seek revenge for her insult in the court to be ripped of her sari, which turn out to be ‘the Great Battle of Bharat’ killing almost every king this country had that time. One can easily connect this story to our lives since we see such women everywhere.

This book takes us through the friendship of Krishna and Panchaali which seems to be a guiding factor in Panchaali’s life. This explains the importance of a friend or a guide in every women’s life. This also establishes the purity of friendship, which many of us fail to understand in this modern world. It also takes us through the undisclosed love of Panchaali towards Karna,who happen to be her 5 husbands’ opponent (also their elder brother, which they come to know only after his death.

Devakaruni not only speaks about Panchaali, but also about other female characters, such as Kunti, who had brought her 5 sons (2 of which are Mathri’s) up and made them stay together; Ganthari, who had tied her eyes since her husband is blind, still adorning the queenship and motherhood. She portrays them as independent decision makers and not as someone who are pushed by the society.

Other than that, Ved Vyas has also been mentioned as one of the main characters since he is the one that tells Panchali that she is the one who would change the course of history.

For the one, who had always read this story with gods, demigods, magic and impossibilities, this novel provides a totally different outlook. This depicts humans as humans and gives an emotional and psychological insights of the character- Panchaali. For the one who does not know the story, it’s just another story, yet it can’t go untouched. It sparks a fire within all the women which symbolizes Panchali’s birth (Yagnaseni – the one is born from fire).

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