A retelling of my favorite epic, the Mahabharata, from the point of view of Draupadi who here goes by another of her names, Panchaali. For those who don't know the story already, Panchaali is a princess who marries the five Pandava brothers and proceeds to live a rather put-upon life; her attempted stripping by the Pandavas' rivals is the immediate cause of the great war between them.

I have no idea how this book comes across if you're not already familiar with the story, and I am very curious about that. Please report if you fit into that category. (I am especially curious how you felt about the Panchaali/Karna thing; I couldn't tell if it worked for me because of what was actually in the text, or because I was projecting what I already knew about him.)

I think this might well be a good introduction to the story. It definitely tells the whole thing, but in very short form and in excellent prose.

My favorite parts were the ones in which Divakaruni brings more of her own ideas and interpretations to the story. I liked the beginning of the novel, which focues on Panchaali's childhood and young adulthood, better than the later parts, in which Panchaali is only present in her own reflections on events which mostly concern other people. I could have happily read a novel which ended at her marriage, in fact. Once the war begins, Divakaruni proceeds with more of a standard retelling than the re-imagining she began with, and since I've read a lot of re-tellings, that's less interesting to me.

Some of the more notable additions and interpetations are that Panchaali is secretly in love with Karna (I must say that I loved this); there's also a lot of attention given to her special relationship with Krishna, especially at the beginning, which I also enjoyed. I had a bit of a problem with the very modern-sounding way in which she expressed feminist sentiments - not a problem with the feelings themselves, but that they were phrased in a way that felt too contemporary to me.

I would have also liked to see more emotional range, especially later on. This may be my interpretation imposing itself, but I always thought that Draupadi had very high highs and very low lows. Here, she's never really happy with her husbands, and never really glories in battle and revenge - she already knows the war is futile and revenge won't bring her happiness before the war even begins. I would have liked to see more joy and ferocity, in addition to frustration, unhappiness, and resignation.

I appreciated the moments of humor early on ("Something always seems to go wrong at a swayamvara") and would have liked a little more of it later. Okay, maybe not at Kurukshetra, but it seemed like no one ever laughed once Panchaali got married, except for the catastrophic moment in the Palace of Illusions when Duryodhan falls into the pool.

I definitely enjoyed seeing Divakaruni's interpretation of the characters (I especially loved her Veda Vyasa, and her alternately very human and otherworldly Krishna, especially as he was early on) and the clever way she juggled a truly dizzying array of characters and events. Overall, I liked it, but I would have liked to see less of Kurukshetra and more of Panchaali.

Buy it from Amazon: The Palace of Illusions: A Novel

ETA: As per conversation in comments, I have added more links so you can buy other versions of the story on Amazon!

The Great Indian Novel. Wild, funny, irreverent remix mashing up the Mahabharata with much more recent Indian history. Probably requires at least some prior familiarity with both the original and the Indian Independence Movement.

The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering: Vol 1,v.2: A Modern Rendering: 1 and The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering, Vol 2. Er. This really is worth the price. A sexy, lush, sometimes overwritten, but always vivid and involving retelling. If amazon doesn't work, abebooks.com should.

Mahabharata. A less modern style, but one of the most emotionally engaging versions I've come across. If your heart doesn't break for her Karna, you probably don't have one. I bet abebooks.com has a cheaper copy than amazon.
rachelmanija: (Angel Sanctuary: Mad Hatter)
( Jun. 4th, 2008 06:01 pm)
This will probably amuse only three people, but it will probably amuse them a lot, so I will post the link. For reasons explained at the top of the linked post, I was challenged to make up the summary of a truly insane fanfic, complete with pairings and warnings, and it occurred to me that you could get a lot of insane out of Angel Sanctuary alone.

But just for fun, I did a crossover with Bleach and the Mahabharata. Warnings include but are not limited to clonecest, death of God, and blasphemy in three different religions.
rachelmanija: (Mahabharata: Krishna with wheel)
( Apr. 4th, 2008 10:01 am)
I am obviously behind the curve, because I only now learned that Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's MB retelling focusing on Draupadi, Palace of Illusions, is out in stores! Has anyone read it yet?

I was delighted to discover that CBD is apparently a Draupadi/Karna shipper! Not because I particularly see it myself, but because I enjoy seeing how all fans of the story end up developing their own OTPs (One True Pairing) and theories about who's secretly in love with whom.
Last year I visited New York City in order to meet my mother. (She lives in India, I live in the USA; the meeting place was more convenient than one might imagine.)

She stayed with some friends of hers who are dancers. She had brought me an illustrated children's Mahabharata and some Amar Chitra Katha comics. I looked through them, showed the dancers some illustrations, and told them some stories. Apparently I focused on decapitated and exploding heads.

For newbies, here is my Fannish Guide to the Mahabharata..

About that exploding head: A man named Jayadratha had a boon that whoever dropped his head to the ground would have his own head explode. When Arjuna and Jayadratha met in battle, Krishna instructed Arjuna to let fly an arrow so that when it decapitated Jayadratha, it would carry his head to Jayadratha's father, who was watching the battle from the sidelines, and drop it in his lap. Arjuna did so. Jayadratha's father leaped up in horror, letting the head fall to the earth... and his own head exploded!

You've got to be careful with the wording on boons.

As a direct, albeit belated result of my telling of such stories, the dancers are doing a piece on "the decapitated head through the ages," and have requested that I send them illustrations and stories. I obliged with a few Mahabharata stories, plus some Amar Chitra Katha comics, including a valiant Rajput woman who cuts off her own head.

I now have three requests for you:

1. The dancers were particularly taken by my story of Jayadratha's decapitated head and his father's exploding head. They requested an illustration. I can't find one. Does anyone have one or know of one? A link, an emailed image, or even a mailed Xerox if you wish to go that far would be great.

2. Do you have any good head stories that I might have missed or forgotten? Not limited to the Mahabharata!

3. I did send them the one about the nodding self-decapitated head on the hill who watched the war of Kurukshetra. [Linked via the "disembodied head tag.] Does anyone have an illustration for that?
Inspired by recent viewing of Mushishi and Onmyouji, both of which I very highly recommend, in totally different ways.

Read more... )
rachelmanija: (Mahabharata: Krishna with wheel)
( Mar. 8th, 2007 09:43 am)
You may take this poll even if you've only just started reading. Otherwise, cut to spare everyone who wishes I would shut up already.

Note that on the "who would you marry" questions, I used ticky boxes rather than buttons, as is appropriate.

Read more... )
For those of you missing the fun, [livejournal.com profile] telophase has posted some rather hilarious images from Indian comic books to [livejournal.com profile] reading_maha.

A great deal of discussion followed on a number of topics, including the crucial question of whether, when the warrior Arjuna disguised himself as a dancing teacher, he was a) in drag, b) temporarily a eunuch due to a curse, c) temporarily a hermaphrodite, d) temporarily impotent.

I grew up on these comics and I love them, but the art is variable, to say the least. The artist who did "Tansen" and "Mirabai" did beautiful work, but I still cannot wrap my mind around the images in "Karna," in which that tragic son of the Sun looks like a perky sixteen-year-old girl with a sixties flip hairdo and gigantic blue plastic earrings.
While I was at ConDor, a sf and fantasy convention last weekend, I realized that many people who read this journal, particularly the manga and anime fans but also the fans of fantasy novels and genre TV shows, would be very interested in reading the great Indian epic, The Mahabharata, if they realized that it contained many scenes of half-naked sweaty men embracing each other while weeping and vowing eternal devotion.

And many more extremely fan-friendly elements! To list only a few more:

Gender transformations.

Thrilling battle sequences with elephants and chariot duels and warriors hurling magical weapons at each other— all very poignant and heartbreaking because it isn’t good guy vs. bad guy, but literally brother against brother.

The marriage of one woman to five brothers. When someone protests that this is immoral, someone else retorts that multiple husbands is every woman’s dream.

A kingdom lost in a game of dice.

A forced stripping thwarted by God, who makes Draupadi's sari go on forever.

Gods, demons, demi-Gods, assorted supernatural beings, immortals, and totally random vengeful talking snakes.

You can read the beginning of Ramesh Menon's adaptation here. Note that, like an LJ, you start at the bottom of the page and proceed upward. Some chapters are split over several pages.

[livejournal.com profile] yhlee and [livejournal.com profile] oyceter, there is math on the first page! Everyone else, there is masturbation on the second page!

But, to get back to the manly warriors embracing each other and weeping, here is a brief excerpt from Kamala Subramaniam’s adaptation. (I'm using hers because I have it and Menon's doesn't go that far online.) Here is the context:

As far as anyone knows at this point including himself, Radheya is a lowly charioteer’s son. Actually, he is the son of the Sun God and a mortal princess, and was born with earrings and organic armor— a golden breastplate which is part of his body and makes him invulnerable. But because his mother bore him while she was still unmarried, she floated him down the river in a basket, and never mentioned his existence to anyone. She then married a king and had five sons, the Pandavas, the oldest of whom will inherit the throne. Except he’s not really the oldest, Radheya is.

The Pandavas are generally considered the heroes of the story and Duryodhana, who is the Pandavas' rival contender for the throne, to be the villain, but some readers feel that this is debatable. Here's a lovely post which touches upon the matter.

But, returning to Radheya at the tournament, up till now, everyone has snubbed him, and the only way he could get any warrior training was to lie about his heritage, and the only person who has ever loved him is his adopted mother, the charioteer’s wife.

He came to compete in a tournament, but was disqualified because he wasn’t royalty even though he was obviously equal to or better than anyone else competing. Duryodhana is a crown prince, also there to fight in the tournament, who is meeting Radheya for the first time. In order to let Radheya compete, Duryodhana gives him a small kingdom on the spot…

[Excerpt begins here]

Radheya’s eyes were raining tears. His voice was choked with emotion. He said, “My lord, I do not know how I am to thank you for this great honor you have conferred on me. I do not think I deserve it. How can I repay you? How can I show my gratitude?”

The noble Duryodhana smiled and said, “Young man, whoever you may be, your noble qualities deserve not only this small kingdom of Anga but much more. You seem to be fit to rule this entire world. As for us, we do not want anything in return for this small service of ours. I want your love. I want your friendship. Duryodhana wants your heart.”

Radheya smiled through his tears and said, “My heart! That, my lord, you have already annexed.”

Duryodhana approached him. With his body drenched with the holy coronation bath, and his eyes wet with the even more holy tears of gratitude and love, Radheya approached the noble Duryodhana. The two friends embraced each other. The moving scene touched the hearts of all.

[end excerpt]

There are many, many scenes like that, involving those two and also many other characters. But since I’ve already introduced them, I will stay with them and jump ahead to a scene which occurs much later, on the eve of a great battle. This takes place in Duryodhana’s tent.

If you want to stay unspoiled for total heartbreak of the last part of the story, don't click here, but if you're not sure you want to read the story, please click, because this just might convince you that you do )

[begin excerpt]

Radheya smiled a very sweet smile, and Duryodhana embraced him with affection. It was the last night they were to spend together. […] Duryodhana said, “Go and rest in peace. You have a difficult day ahead of you.”

Radheya lingered outside of the tent. His heart was there. At the entrance of the tent he stood and looked back at Duryodhana, who was also looking at the retreating back of his beloved Radheya. Radheya rushed back and embraced Duryodhana once again. Duryodhana was touched by the affection of his friend. They shed tears together and then they parted.

[end excerpt]

I rest my case.

The group for reading and discussion is [livejournal.com profile] reading_maha. We are all reading at different paces and from different versions and adaptations, not to mention different views on and experience with the text, so feel free to jump in with anything at any time.
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