Whoever said feminism is a 20th century phenomenon is wrong. Pick up any female protagonist in history, from the epics Ramayana and Mahabharata to the Queens and Princesses, there have been strong female characters. However, as the tales were written by men, these protagonists often were left unheard or unnoticed. Recent renditions of these stories from a female perspective have lent them a voice. One of the bestsellers in this genre is “The Palace of Illusions” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. The Palace of Illusions is a narration of Mahabharata by Paanchali, also known as Draupadi.
[color-box color='' customcolorpicker='' rounded=false dropshadow=false]Unlike most books that view Draupadi as a kritya, a female demon which requires the sacrifice of its own clan, The Palace of Illusions views Draupadi as a human[/color-box]
The book starts out at Draupadi’s childhood, on the day when she hears the story of her birth from her Dhai Ma or nanny. Draupadi takes the reader through her adolescent years, to the day of her swayamvar*, to her life as Paanchali – the daughter of the Kingdom of Paanchala and the wife of the five Pandavas, to the Great War at Kurukshetra, to her passage into the other world.
Unlike most books that view Draupadi as a kritya, a female demon which requires the sacrifice of its own clan, The Palace of Illusions views Draupadi as a human, possessing admirable qualities like integrity, practicality and inner strength, who can love with passion, show courage in the face of danger and is a loyal friend. The book makes the reader wonder at the fairness of the societal rules that force her to hide her love for Karna and accept her role as the wife of five husbands. The book also describes the enigmatic relationship between Draupadi and Krishna beautifully. Although described as a sakha and sakhi*, Draupadi’s love for Krishna borders on blind devotion and The Palace of Illusions contains many conversations that illustrate this. The most striking one happens at the gates of heaven, with Draupadi trying to recollect her first encounter with Krishna, only to realize that it happened even before she had walked out of the agni* at King Drupad’s yagna.
[color-box color='' customcolorpicker='' rounded=false dropshadow=false]The style of narration contains the signature Chitra Banerjee mysticism, one that can be seen in her earlier novel, The Mistress of Spices.[/color-box]
The style of narration contains the signature Chitra Banerjee mysticism, one that can be seen in her earlier novel, The Mistress of Spices. The cover with the closed door is another indicative of the mysticism. The narrative is compact and at no point does it allow the story of Mahabharata itself to overwhelm it. More than the epic it is a rendering of Paanchali’s soul. One does find oneself going back to the original epic, to refer to incidents, if only to compare notes with Chitra Banerjee’s version. In all, a great read.
Be a good Samaritan: If you liked this review, please share it with others. If you did not, share it with us in the comments below 🙂
We regularly publish original book reviews. Contact us if you are an author/publisher and want us to review your work.
If you would like to purchase “The Palace of Illusions” by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, published by Pan Macmillan you can do so from our affiliates at
Flipkart: The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Amazon (Paperback): The Palace of Illusions
Amazon (Kindle Ed.): The Palace of Illusions
Tell-A-Tale gets a small share of the purchases you make from the affiliate link, helping us bring you the stories you love to read.
*swayamvar – A practice in ancient India, where the girl of marriageable age would choose a husband, from among a number of suitors.
*sakha and sakhi – friends
*agni – sacred fire
(About the Author: Meenakshi describes herself and every woman as a superwoman. A working mom of 2 kids, she writes when time and inspiration permits. In whatever time is left over she dabbles in music and craft.)