When Draupadi Speaks…

As one of the most significant characters in the Mahabharata, Draupadi has always fascinated me. Each time I read about her, I tried to decipher Mahabharata – and the events that follow – from her perspective. I also look for a more powerful and unique version of this character every time when reading about this fascinating woman.

Birth from the sacrificial fire

Birth from the sacrificial fire

Last month, I got the opportunity to read The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni as the book came to me as a gift from a dear colleague. The novel, narrated by Panchali – as she preferred to be addressed by that name – takes us back to a time that is partly history, partly mythology – the Mahabharata that is seen through her eyes. In just one word if I am asked to describe the book, I would say it’s ‘mesmerizing’.

In a sense, I believe, her birth itself is tragic, her story is complex. You cannot easily tag her as the archetypal “good and faithful wife” like that of a Sita or a Savitri. In the book, The Palace of Illusions, Panchali takes us to the journey to her special birth where she was born of the sacrificial fire, in which her father prayed for a son to support him in defeating his rival Drona – which means, she was born unwanted from the sacrificial fire.

Just like her unsolicited birth from the fire – followed by a lonely childhood at her father’s palace, throughout her journey, Panchali comes through as a woman of fierce independence – striving to balance her passions against her errands. Her wit and intelligence, matches to that of her ‘sakha’ or friend Krishna’s – which was a rare phenomenon and she was also gifted with questioning abilities and logic, unlike the passive woman. Even though she was forced into a polyandrous marriage (more so by her mother-in-law, who could have come to her rescue), she could not overcome her partiality for Arjuna, who won her hand – which is quite justified. But even though she loved Arjuna unconditionally, she remained a tragic queen for our hero had plenty of other relationships and showed great indifference towards her.

However, she had the resilience to strongly support her husbands’ even during their years in exile. Amidst her greatest humiliation at Dhritarashtra’s court, she had the strength to question the elders, about the very concept of their dharma, which nobody had the courage to.

In Divakaruni’s book, her devotion flanking on love for Lord Krishna came across in a very candid and hearty manner. The description of the battle, her secret approbation for Karna, the exile, the forbidding justice of war and finally a lonely death on the way to Mahaprasthana – have been depicted in a way that is simple and intriguing. A powerful, yet romantic and witty side of Draupadi come alive, which always remained unexplored.

For more than one reason, the author was successful in weaving a magical world of our greatest epic told from the point of view of Panchali, who will always remain a mystery, a controversy queen and never a role model like Sita in our society.


14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Shantheri on June 14, 2012 at 4:53 am

    lovely…. infact my mom is also reading the book currently. She has wonderful things to say as well. Draupadi has always been an intriguing character in the Mahabharata, the earliest feminist voice that we can recall.


    • Posted by Soho on June 17, 2012 at 5:27 pm

      Oh that’s excellent! I’m sure aunty has a lot more to share going by her experience and depth of knowledge. I agree. She was certainly one of the earliest feminist voices who questioned patriarchal norms in her own way.


  2. Posted by H S Eswara on June 14, 2012 at 4:56 am

    It is a very authentic analysis of Draupadi’s character. I admire it. I would like to read the book myself if I can get hold of it some time.


  3. Posted by Seema Rao on June 14, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Hey this is a wonderful post. I have also read the book. It is extremely well researched and combines the imagination of the author through the eyes of Draupadi in a very lucid way. You have a great style of writing. I love reading your blog. write more.


  4. Posted by Sahil on June 15, 2012 at 9:03 am

    Good job. It is always a revelation to read about Draupadi – the heroic princess from epic Mahabharata. Enjoyed the post


  5. Posted by Sudeshna on June 15, 2012 at 7:45 pm

    This one is a good researched posting on Draupadi. I am a dancer. In colleges we performed a dance drama called Draupadi. It was very appreciated. so does your writing. very much inspired.


  6. Posted by Jeeta Bandopadhyay on June 16, 2012 at 6:11 am

    Hi Sohinidi,

    Wonderful read, the mystery regarding Draupadi’s birth was unknown to me-thanks for enriching. Keep writing.


  7. Posted by Soho on June 17, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    Thanks Jeeta. Will keep you posted 🙂


  8. Posted by shalini tripathi on September 7, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    She is a tragedy queen..how can she be a role model..which person will want to have tragedy in his life…but I wonder atleast god didnt use her for his master plans and she received unconditional love atleast from it as everyone kind of used her..be her father, husbands…there was a deep fire inside her..may be she wanted to revenge wrongs on her father..an epitome of selflessnes..but we percieve her only as a strong mysterious woman…but she needs lot of understanding and love..


  9. Great read. I was wondering, what would you say about Druapadi’s characterisation and her role of procreation?


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