Amritha S- Quest for Feminine Identity in ‘The Palace of Illusions’

Quest for Feminine Identity in ‘The Palace of Illusions’ – Nancy Yadav

The author through the paper attempts to examine the representation of Draupadi by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. According to the author, Divakaruni’s version of Draupadi is the most appealing of all the contemporary retellings of Draupadi. She justifies her stance by explaining how Divakaruni’s Draupadi adheres to the archetypal Draupadi, while still giving her a feminist voice. She claims that the author has rendered a radical view of gender consciousness to understanding the mythology. The Draupadi in this retelling is a melange of mythic consciousness with feminist voice.

Literature, according to the author, is the gateway to understanding the culture of a society in a particular context. She believes the retellings of the Mahabharata gives an insight into the way the society functioned in the Mahabharata context.  She revives Draupadi from the mythology by positioning her as a subject rather than an object as in the original text.

” Divakaruni’s treatment of Draupadi as a subject takes us back to the mythological understanding, yet it builds our contemporary understanding of the feminine matters through the novel” ( Yadav 1).

The author then refers to the theories of John J White, which explains, ” A myth introduced by a modern novelist into his work can prefigure and hence anticipate the plot in a number of ways” ( Yadav 2).  She analyses how Divakaruni positions myth as a pre figurative device in the novel. Divakaruni makes use of myth to symbolically comment on Mahabharata.  Divakaruni through her characters, plots and events makes myth central to the novel.  The author then refers to the essay by Meenakshi Mukherji, ‘ Myth as Technique”, where the two ways of using myth as a technique is discussed. The first being, digressions and other – structural parallels. The author claims that Divakaruni uses the second form, where the retold version of hers, follows the same flaws as the original Mahabharata.

In the original Mahabharata, Draupadi was not portrayed as a woman with a sense of individuality. It is in Divakaruni’s version, that Draupadi is on a quest for her identity and individuality, amidst  the patriarchal clutter around her. The author questions as to how ethics and dharma favoured men more than women in the epics. The author observes how Divakaruni takes authorial licence to portray the feminine desires of Draupadi, such as her attraction towards Karna. Be it the Swayamvara episode or her Vastraharan episode, Draupadi of Divakaruni is the archetypal Draupadi, with the agency of a feminist in the contemporary context.

Drawing references from the novel, the author observes how Divakaruni addresses social issues, women in today’s context face. Starting from Draupadi’s birth, in the chapter Fire, the author understands how Divakaruni has hinted on the female infanticide.

In the scene, where Draupadi studies by overhearing her brother Dhri’s lessons, Divakaruni has focussed on Women ‘s education, says the author.  Draupadi understands the importance of education in terms of both sciences and physical combat. She believes she is no less than Dhri when it comes to physical endurance.

Further, in the scenes where Draupadi, feeling completely low about her colour, asks Krishna about being dark complexioned, the author feels Divakaruni plausibly wanted to draw parallels between contemporary problems faced by the women in our country to the Draupadi in the Mahabharata.

While the original text, gave no agency to Draupadi, Divakaruni portrays Draupadi as a modern day feminist, according to the author. Through the character of Draupadi, the author attempts to question the patriarchal socio cultural mythical rituals set up for women.  Divakaruni’s version of Draupadi is more close to human characteristics, this is a more humanized rendering.

The author feels that Divakaruni has attempted to fuse feminist ideologies onto a mythological retelling of the Mahabharata.  Divakaruni also works on the feminist desire in Draupadi. The author believes that Divakaruni through her novel works on the reappraisal of women and her power within the social power structure.

The researcher seeks to examine the representation of Draupadi in contemporary retellings of Mahabharata and pursue a comparative study of the Draupadis thus portrayed. The paper is an informed take on the gender consciousness in the novel, which will help the researcher understand the portrayal of Draupadi and the quest for her identity  in the novel.


Yadav, Nancy. “Quest for Feminine Identity in The Palace of Illusions” . Indian Muse   62(2015). Web. 23 June 2016.



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