Sunday, April 7, 2013

How Draupadi wasted precious 2 days of my life!

One tale that India doesn't get tired of retelling is Mahabharatha. Story tellers across all genres, regions, languages and religions have adopted the main Vyasa story into their narration and rendered the epic in various flavours for the common men to relish. The themes of family fights, wars, politics, miracles and morals in Mahabharatha have found multicolored illustrations in stories. The palace of illusions is yet another feeble attempt at narrating the Mahabharatha epic from a different perspective. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has chosen Draupadi as the narrator and it is through her eyes that we see the Mahabharatha unfold.

The novel begins with a rather dull rant from Draupadi about how she sprang into life from the fire along with her brother Drushtadyumna and on she goes to grumble about her inconsequential existence amidst the palace walls. She desperately waits for her turn to fulfill the prophecy of her life-the prophecy which she states would alter the history of Bharat land. Draupadi as is shown in the book is a stupid and trivial selfish person who cribs for half of the book. A new angle seen in the book is that Draupadi has a longing to marry the tragic hero of Mahabharatha-Karna.

* To recount a story I heard from an elder at home I take a small break from my review. Draupadi in her past life was a sage's wife who suffered from tuberculosis. Being the pativrate that she was (all women in our epics are victims of domestic subjugation), she was in the habit of eating out of her husband's leftover plate. Once while doing so, she sees a rotten finger of her TB suffering husband. Alas! she eats the entire meal along with the finger without complaining. After his death some time later, she goes into Shiva Tapasya. Pleased by her Tapasya, Lord Shiva appears before her to grant a wish. On seeing the Lord, the ecstatic Draupadi prays him to grant a better husband in the next life by chanting "Patim dehi" for five times and when she is about to say it for the sixth time and utters "Pati" the Lord stops her and gladly grants the wish. So in the next life Draupadi gets 5 husbands (for chanting Patim dehi 5 times) and also comes too close to marrying another one (for the half "Pati" chant) Karna. *

The other half of the book goes in the obnoxious queen Draupadi detailing various events and their bad outcomes tarnishing her reputation, mood and happiness. Our miss annoying queen dedicates sufficient part of the narration to picture her friendship with Krishna and how her tiny pea sized brain fails to decipher such a great person's character. The only part which holds a reader's interest is the Kurukshetra war description and no surprise in that because the events that unfolded in 18 day epic war are worth anybody's attention no matter who tells the story.

This pesky book would have been a bit more bearable if only it had some profound thought worthy philosophy in it. I agree that Mahabharatha has been rarely told from a woman's perspective but the hype ends at just that fact. You part with the book with a dismal feeling that Draupadi was a waste of space on earth!! A beautiful moral story of Mahabharatha is reduced to sluggish jabber of a silly female.

People who should stay away from this book are those:

  • who think that a character like that of Draupadi cannot be lame.
  • who have heard wonderful Mahabharatha stories from grandparents, mothers et al.
  • who have relished reading thoughtful versions of Mahabharatha.
  • who know the difference between a cribbing selfish girl and a woman of substance.
People who should read this book are those:
  • who wish to have a good laugh about a wretched version of a great epic.
  • who want to warn their friends what books not to read.
If you really want to read a wonderful retelling of Mahabharatha from human point of view then get yourself a copy of "Parva" from S.L.Bhyrappa. 


  1. Haha, the book was a disappointment. Attempting to retell Mahabharatha is a Herculean task, the book just seems incomplete. I was looking forward to some rant/perspective about Draupadi and Arjuna sharing an year together, which was glaringly missing from the book!!

    But I think that the author has given an interesting perspective to some of the stories of Mahabharatha. Queen Draupadi was indeed famous for her jealousy and anger. I liked small insignificant (to story) relationships like that of Draupadi and Duryodhana's wife. The last chapter of Pandavas and Draupadi's last journey was brilliant!

    1. Oh yes I loved the scene while just stepping out of the palace Draupadi has second thoughts about the journey. It's so beautifully human.

  2. I loved your review. It echoes my sentiments about the book. I found so many reviews on the net raving about this book, I was completely baffled. I thought it was too Mills and Boonish in its treatment of Draupadi-Karn angle. For readers who have never read any perspectives yet, this may be a fresh idea but that's about it. I neve tire of recommending 'Yajnaseni' by Pratibha Ray. And I think some of the most amazing Mahabharata-inspired literature is in regional languages. I have dedicated a page on my book reviews blog for Mahabharata-inspired literature. Hop on there, when you have time, and do recommend anything that I might have missed.

    1. I agree with you that our local culture is brazen with interesting analysis of Mahabharata.
      I will share your link here for the benefit of my readers since it is one-stop to all Mahabharatha lovers:

    2. Oh thank you so much. I am honoured :-)