Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's 'The Palace of Illusions' offers a fresh interpretation of the Mahabharata, presented from Draupadi's perspective.

'The Palace of Illusions', offers a fresh perspective on one of the most renowned and enduring tales of Indian mythology, providing readers with a deeper understanding of Draupadi's (Panchali, the wife of the Pandavas) character and her significance within the epic narrative.


What is Dharma? What is Life? These fundamental questions were addressed in one of India's greatest epics, the Mahabharata, penned by Sage Ved Vyasa. This epic being the largest, contains countless characters, each of them having a unique story and a significant role in the Mahabharata. However, in the eyes of many, there was one character who was the driving force in the Mahabharata the greatest war ever fought – she was none other than Yajnaseni Draupadi - Panchali.

In her book 'The Palace of Illusions', Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni retells the story of Mahabharata through the perspective of the enigmatic, virtuous and intelligently beautiful queen Panchali (Draupadi). This book however is not the exact story of the Mahabharata, rather the author uses her creative imagination to pen down the events of Mahabharata in the first person perspective of Panchali, one of the most important figures of Mahabharata, and therefore the book starts with magical birth of Panchali and goes onto cover the events that followed.

The Palace of Illusions is a magical and beautiful retelling of this great epic. It beautifully captures the inner turmoil and complexities she had to go through thereby capturing the magical essence of her character along with beautifully describing the events of Mahabharata.


This book portrays the epic Mahabharata through the lens of Draupadi or Panchali, the daughter of Drupada, the King of Panchala. Draupadi was born from fire, along with her brother Dhrishtyadyumna, The prophecy on her birth predicted that she would be the cause of the destruction of many Kshatriyas. She possessed a powerful and moving personality, however, her life was restricted by social conventions and gender-specific norms set by the society.

Thereafter, later in her life, she was married off to the five Pandava brothers, which ultimately resulted in the infamous incident of her Cheerharan/Vastraharan in front of the entire sabha as her husband gambled her away in a game of dice. This unfortunate incident eventually led to the greatest war of all time – Mahabharata.

The author did not end the story here, the author further delves into the post-war scenario, how they dealt with the consequences of the war, the multitude of emotions faced by Panchali after the loss in the war and finally ending the novel with her final journey to the forest with the Pandavas i.e their death.

What is 'The Palace of Illusions'?

Just by looking at the title, readers might think that it refers to a grandiose palace that is full of illusions. But does it only refer to a majestic palace of illusions? The title might be interpreted to mean the majestic palace of Hastinapur, the magical palace within the walls of which familial strifes and politics, power struggles, complex dynamics and eventually the infamous incident which led to the Mahabharata took place.

However, metaphorically, it can also refer to the illusions of all the materialistic pleasures as well as the illusions of life itself, which are ultimately meaningless in comparison to the true meaning of life and the truth of existence.


In this book, the author beautifully captures the complexities faced by Panchali in every aspect of life, from her childhood to death. It's astonishing how well the strong, fierce nature of Panchali has been portrayed along with her sensitive and vulnerable side. The portrayal of such a powerful character with the emotions of every other human allows the readers to understand the protagonist deeply. Reading one of the greatest epics from a feminine point of view gives it a fresh meaning.

This feminine perspective of such a great epic gives it a beautiful outlook. Panchali was a strong, enigmatic woman, ready to build her destiny but fate had other plans for her, she faced her fair share of hardships and unfortunate incidents in her life. Panchali's powerful and mysterious attitude persisted despite the several difficult trials she faced in life. In this book, we often notice, Panchali reflecting on her life decisions and choices in the face of each of these trials that life had in store for her.

“What did I learn that day in the sabha? All this time, I’d believed in my power over my husbands. I’d believed that because they loved me, they would do anything for me. But now I saw that though they did love me — as much perhaps as any man can love — there were other things they loved more. Their notions of honour, loyalty toward each other, and reputation were more important to them than my suffering."

This book although written through the eyes and mind of Panchali did not fail to portray the other characters impressively. The most notable feature of this book was how the author showed the positives and negatives of every character, none of the characters were shown as picture-perfect.

The author further skillfully depicted the relationships she shared with the other characters, from her loving and protective bond with her brother Dhrishtiyadyumna, her beautiful and courteous bond with her friend Krishna, to her bond of love, loyalty, and complexity with her 5 husbands, the Pandavas, and the mixed bond of longing shared with Karna. Thereby beautifully capturing the essence of the beautiful yet complex relationship Panchali shared with every character of the epic.

The author’s rich way of narrating the story of Mahabharata through the perspective of Panchali is captivating. The story through a new perspective offers an insight into the many other, frequently overlooked aspects of the great epic. The author’s way of narrating the entire epic in simple yet beautiful words is magnificent. It perfectly narrates the story through the eyes of a queen, a woman who changed “the course of history.”

The author accurately depicted the plethora of emotions faced by a woman. The book highlights Panchali's feelings while reminding the reader that she is first and foremost a woman before she is a queen or princess.

The author did a great job of capturing the wide range of emotions that a woman experiences. Her destiny presented various challenges to her; the tragic event of her Vastraharan incited in Panchali a fierce desire for vengeance for the humiliation and disgrace she suffered at the hands of the Kauravas. She experiences waves of grief, longing, anguish, fear, love and resentment throughout the novel. Despite, the challenges life presented to her, She remained a symbol of strength, resilience, justice, sacrifice love and feminine power.

It also discusses Panchali's and the Pandavas' post-Kurukshetra era. Kurukshetra War is a central event in the Mahabharata. We all know what happened during the war. However, what we often don’t talk about is the sacrifice, pain, suffering, tragedy, and loss endured by their loved ones behind the triumph of the Pandavas. This is vividly described in the novel through the feelings and emotions of Draupadi. The author explains how the war affected the protagonist Panchali along with others.

A lot of us may not know how Mahabharata ended. However the author exquisitely recounts the aftermath of the war which is often overlooked by us, and finally concludes with the author's beautifully penned depiction of Draupadi's final journey with her five husbands, the Pandavas into the forest and eventually their demise.


The Palace of Illusions is a magnificent take on the greatest epic Mahabharata, through the eyes of Panchali and truly Mahabharata from a unique viewpoint.

The author beautifully captures the essence of Panchali and gives us an encounter of the inner struggles and turmoil she faced in various aspects of life. The portrayal of the relationships and bondings shared by Panchali with the other characters was beautiful.

The Palace of Illusions is a must-read for all readers, allowing them to delve into a world that is 'half history, half myth, and wholly magical'.

Avishikta Biswas

Avishikta Biswas

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