Sonya’s Picks: Princess Paanchali’s Story

Mahabharat Picks
Princess Paanchali’s Story
Is having 5 husbands a great thing ?
What more could any woman want, you might say. Specially if the 5 husbands, between them, bring to the table, a sons-of-gods combo. Of righteousness, strength, bravery and beauty.
Certainly the lot of Draupadi, husband to the 5 Pandava brothers, doesn’t seem bad ( OK OK she had to spent 13 years of her life in exile, and also get gambled away to bad cousin-in-law Duryodhana). But then she had a whole war fought over her. All the men who abused her were killed, or the blood of their hearts drunk up.

But read Yajnaseni by Pratibha Ray where , the dark, fire born princess with flashing eyes, tells her own tale, and you figure out what a bad deal Draupadi really had.
And for a trendier, more colloquial version, read Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s ‘The Palace of Illusions‘. Mistress of Spices Divakaruni lives up to her reputation and gives us a racy and romantic tale.
Divakaruni tells the story of not just Draupadi and the god Krishna, but also of the most tragic hero in the whole wide world – Karna, the son of the Sun God. Cast off on the river as a baby, by his unmarried princess mother , and from then on doomed to tragedy.
All of this make The Palace of Illusions a zippy read . And what could be more tragic than the Draupadi Karna romance ( even if its strictly unhistorical) ?
Told colloquially, the Mahabharata, has a charm of its own. Never mind that Draupadi calls brother Dristadyumna ‘Dhri’. Or that her nurse Dhai Ma grumbles “And my buttocks , I swear, they were flat as chapattis”.
After all, is the Mahabharata, as we know it, really historical ?

18 thoughts on “Sonya’s Picks: Princess Paanchali’s Story

  1. Hi! Haven’t read Divakaruni’s book yet. But, liked Yajnaseni, and how it was written from the woman’s perspective. And, especially liked the relationship between Draupadi and Krishna. Didn’t you?

  2. Way too much literary junk in Indian history..quite a fodder for intermediate intellectuals though..LOL
    However, the epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana as we have collectively known them are as factual in history as the Indian Independence movement. One only has to look with an earnest longing for truth, and the evidences will clarify themselves.
    It has been one of the biggest blessings to India that the seekers here are given sons and daughters of God not once in a few thousand years, but almost every decade..there are so many who have attained God or Self realization in India that it is difficult to keep count, and there may be so many who are not celebrities. Adi Sankara, Jnaneshwar, Sai baba, Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, HW Poonjaji, and many other realised ones from recent times, whose teachings are almost completely unadulterated and who are incapable of speaking anything but facts, consistently endorse and promote all of the Hindu scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Vasishtha, Ribu Gita, Ashtavakra Gita and such (the golden age will dawn when more and more people will make this their top picks for reading..LOL). These scriptures are significantly placed in the events from the epics, and their primary teaching is to advance towards non-duality or Self-Realization..while there are other religions which preach wisdom, compassion, etc., Hinduism is probably the only one with constant emphasis on Self-realization.
    The evidences are extremely compelling even for the most doubtful minds once they show an earnest interest.

  3. The Mahabharata is much more than soap (although the way it was directed and produced on the popular TV show, it was little more than soap). Luckily, I’d read most of it and heard most of it from grandparents and parents and Amar CHitra Kathas, well before the TV soap showed up in the eighties.
    It’s fantastic literature. The issues raised in it still seem discussion-worthy! And Draupadi, so much gutsier than the wimpy Sita, used to make the Mahabharata far more attractive than The Ramayana (that I used to think basically promoted stereotypical gender roles).
    However, these days, my vote is for the Ramayana – for greater complexity of the characters.
    Thanks for the book recos. I will read them…Can’t seem to get enough of Indian authors anyway!!!
    Meanwhile, maybe Shekhar could direct something beautiful, simple and memorable, for kids, that is based on stories from the Mahabharata. SOmething I’d be proud to share with kids!! –Deepa

  4. i feel our epics teach us a lot about life it’s realities, fantasies. my only introduction to them through amarchitra kathas and t.v seariels.
    i see Draupadi as empowered women one who learned to use life situations to her advantage and emerge as winner at the end. i love kishna my favourate god/character. i see ram as a hypocrate ( sorry some will be angry) and sita very repressive. hero in my eyes is karana.
    whether epic or real life stories we have choice what to take from them

  5. After all, is the Mahabharata, as we know it, really historical ?
    Of course, by divine design, many “hardcore” facts are kept hidden from the majority of the target audience for the sake of preservation of society (the sex lives of their Gods are best kept private). Same as when Osho attacks the very foundation of marriage, it comes from a very primordial state, but may not be applicable to mere mortals.

  6. WE dont have time machine to know if Mahabharat epic story was true…
    But when I read this book review…I cant help but to think how people out there make money…
    Such (cheap) literature is nothing but murder of story telling

  7. hi sonya
    god knows one husband is painful enough
    imagine having to deal with 5
    my sympathies with Draupadi

  8. Hi Sir
    Do you think flow of black money is also contributing significantly in soaring inflation in India ? People like Arun Kumar (an expert on black money and a professor in JNU) estimates that about $500 billion is running into the system that roughly comes to half of the total economy of India.
    I’ll be obliged if u answer this question as early as possible…..
    Waiting for ur reply

  9. Thanks, I will check this book out. Mahabharata is a wonderful novel. It is just a huge pity that all of the Indian film and television depictions of it are so cheesy and unreal. The characters are real, earthy, full-blooded and full of contradictions. Peter Brook’s version was way better than any Indian movie depiction. Maybe one day you – or some body else – would do a series of Mahabharat-based movies which are realistic, earthy, human – no hyperboles, miracles, diamond encrusted crowns, gold chariots that fly in the sky and weird phrases such as ‘parantu aap?’. It should be hard hitting, showing the ferocity, brutality of this epic in full glory. In fact it ought to be like Bandit Queen…

  10. I feel this is trick of publicity hungry Pratibha Ray who opted to write something and anything about mahabharat. and she is successful too as the great shekhar is saying something thus involving lots of people in the whole affair. tell me any married woman with chapatti buttocks. is she is trying to say something about weight of bhim. if it is true even then that flatness is not achievebale. my point is one should be contented with what is given in shekhar’s blog, need not go for the book. ok.

  11. Dear Shekhar,
    I am probably not posting in the most relevant section but let me just say each and every segment on your site is very stirring… I am a freelance journalist/ writer in Toronto. I am currently doing a story on the trend of celebrity blogging and am hoping you can enlighten me with your insights.
    Kind regards,
    Preeti Thandi

  12. Draupadi-Karna Romance:
    Even the thought is a Sin.Unlike Ramayana,where married women are into capitive of villans like ,Ravana(lures for Parvathi and Sita) and Vaali (lures for Sugreeva’s wife),in Mahabharatha Draupadi was Harrased by three persons in whole Mahabhataha Keechak,Dhushyasana,Dhuryodana .Dhuryodana and dhushyasana never had this feeling of romancing or luring towards Draupadi ,a married woman. they wanted to insult Pandavas so they did Vasthrapharan.
    Karna has never had any feeling for Draupadi ,he always had the same feeling of a respected married woman.but had to be mum at Vasthrapharan just for the sake of Friendship.
    The Romance between them is a folk or misguided story.
    He has been decent with all women.except his mother for leaving him after birth.

  13. Hi Shekhar
    I just want to vent out after seeing today’s news. Iran has ordered eight women and one man to be stoned for adultery.
    When is this going to stop? For all that, these women may be innocent. They may even be victims of rape or vengeance. Supposing for a moment they did commit adultery, where is the etiquette –isn’t it an issue between a husband and a wife-to discuss, take responsibility and culpability? In which case, provided they mean something to each other, there are always options -Either forgive and go on with life or annul the marriage. Why make a public spectacle? These women did not commit adultery with a thing or animal.Where are the partners in the crime? When a woman is questioned publicly for her morality and sexual activities, she is re-victimised again and again. In this case the re-victimization occurred at home, then in the community, the matter taken to the court and finally the punishment by stoning. Haven’t they been punished enough for crime they may or may not have committed? I have heard from friends how after Friday namaaz, people gather to witness the stoning. It is like visiting the mosque to accept grace from god, all cleaned out, filled with pious thoughts, only to come out and roll in mire. What message is being sent? Aren’t men satisfied watching dog fighting, bird fighting and human wrestling? Must we stoop down to stoning trembling, half-dead, defenceless women? What sadistic pleasure one can get from this? I wonder how the participants, the men who did commit ‘adultery’ with these women and the ones stoning look themselves in the mirror? I have questioned so many men and women and all acknowledge, they have all committed adultery in thought, word and action but were successful in keeping the secret. It is only a bodily act consuming a few minutes, for crying out aloud?
    Our own mythology is resplendent with Sita turned out of her home, Panchali disrobed for no fault of theirs. Acts glorified in the books and movies. It doesn’t stop there. They are re-enacted time and again at homes. I remember vividly an incident that occurred during my teen years. One of our neighbour’s had a baby girl. Instead of celebrating the event, the husband was beating up his wife. The reason being, he had secretly undergone a vasectomy. Some doctor must have done a hack or whack job on him that did not work. When his wife got pregnant, the husband became a beast filled with suspicion, anger and hatred. Yet the baby girl born was the spitting image of her father. The woman was victimised repeatedly at her house, in front of her children and other extended family. She was taken to every neighbouring household and spoken about. She had no defence, no tears, no words. She just stood motionless with no emotion. The man was so insane with anger that he would not take reason from other men who advised him to wrap up the incident and move on. Even the doctor’s assertion that the vasectomy failed did not satisfy the husband. DNA facility was unheard of. This poor woman lived a life of shame from then on for no fault of hers. Invariably it is always the woman who suffers. Tonight is another sad and sleepless night for me. Vanmala

  14. Mahabharata and Ramayana are decidedly the strangest epics that I have read. Mahabharat specially! Now, the value and the profoundness of Gita is not even a remote question for me. It stands as one of the highest any human intellect has ever gone to.
    But to say all that to a dumb-head like Arjun and be with such dumb-heads like the Pandavas truly amazes me! Not that Kauravas were really bright… but what the heck.
    What really is the qualification of getting a listen from Krishna?

  15. Mahabharata is the most fascinating of stories. Several books have been written and numerous interpretations have been crafted, but it never completely quenches the thirst to know more.And I don’t think any sane woman would ask for 5 husbands! In ‘Yajnaseni’ particularly, Draupadi’s loneliness is palpable. If somebody is genuinely interested in Mahabharata, well, here’s the list. Go have fun:

  16. Hi Shekhar,
    I am currently reading the book Palace of Illusion.. My earlier take on the subject was Yuganta..Both of them are wonderful, although the latter one seems to be better, as itr gives a better view of the one of the unfortunate, yet gutsy heroine of the era.
    What i find very good in this book, is that it has been written with such a simplicity that you can easily relate to it.. Although it becomes a bit difficult to break the all good good images we had about the characters there, like Kunti and Gandhari, although the explanation given here seems to be more logical than the larger than life image portrayed there.
    I always felt in my heart of heart that teh Mahabharata cant be so black and white as it had been shown in the television or the way it was narrated by the grand parents. I mean, for God’s sake, ow can a woman be married to 5 men, without even an eyebrow being raised. And moreover, how can a man who had won a woman through a toough competition be perfectly fine when his wife is told to be shared with his brothers… These are some things which compel you to ponder and give a serious thought to it.. And may be because of these things, sometimes, i felt that these are the things which are good only for stories… But once you read the book, you find some sense in the different parts of the story…
    Over all, I am enjoying the book and its becoming more and more interesting with each and every page, as one after one small bits of teh epic unfolds itself…

  17. I am a complete mythology fan and a die hard romantic.Personally,Karna is may favourite character in the epic along with Krishna.He was a hero in true sense.Better than all the Pandavas and Kauravas.He was a true friend,an extremely generous soul,a brave and skilled warrior and in my opinion,a better human being than Arjuna.Abandoned by his mother,he was ridiculed for his background by the so called great Pandavas who were his own brothers even though they could not forgive themselves when they found out his truth.I wouldn’t say that he was flawless,for no one apart from Krishna was flawless in that epic.But he was the one with the least number of flaws.I would definitely give The Palace of Illusions a read for I also think that Karna and Draupadi’ romance was beautiful and tragic.Draupadi had wanted five qualities in her husband of which each of the Pandavas had only one.But Karna possessed all five of them.Even Krishna himself told Draupadi after they were exiled that her fault was rejecting Karna on the grounds of caste for he was a great warrior and wouldn’t have gambled her away. Krishna knew that Karna deserved Draupadi but did not interfere.

  18. There have been many myths about Goddess Draupadi, many are mis-interpretations, base-less. She is considered a grama devetha and kula devatha for many people. There are many shrines for Goddess Draupadi, spread in Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. One of the shrines, where She is a Grama-Devatha and Kula-Devatha to many, is located in one of the small villages of Tamil Nadu.

    The village is named KONDAL, Mayiladuthurai Taluk, Nagapattinam District, Nidur P.O, Tamil Nadu. There are more details about Goddess and way to the shrine at:

    Draupadi Amman Thunai – May Her blessing be always on you all!!

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