As a writer, Ira Mukhoty is fascinated by the evolution of mythology and history, the erasure of women from these histories, and the implications for the status of women in India. The Mahabharata is well-known for its historical battles and powerful characters. However, the stories of the great women of this story were lost somewhere along the way. Mukhoty’s latest novel, Song of Draupadi: A Novel, is a continuation of her previous books, Heroines: Powerful Indian Women of Myth and History and Daughters of the Sun: Empresses, Queens, and Begums of the Mughal Empire. 

Bhagavad Gita Sermon is Krishna’s Advice to Arjuna

Krishna’s sermon to Arjuna precedes the war. The Bhagavad Gita sermon is Krishna’s advice to Arjuna to give up doubt and fight. It’s the story of a great war with four generations of greed, curse, and vengeance that culminates in massive destruction.

Men who swear to avoid women in order to honor their fathers, women who demand impossible things of husbands, friends who forget their promises and swear to avenge their insults, fathers who invoke occult powers in order to get children who would destroy their enemies, women who swear to be reborn in order to destroy men, and brothers who make each other feel insecure—the story is layered with jealousy and its causes and consequences are difficult to disentangle. That is why, with its hazy lines between right and wrong, it has captivated readers and listeners for centuries.

Battle of Mahabharata was a Just War

The Mahabharata has been told in many different ways. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s The Palace of Illusions, narrated from Draupadi’s point of view, delves into the events that lead to the war for which she is blamed. The Mahabharata encourages many of these feminist interventions that ask probing questions like, “How has women’s role in the war been framed?” Are they actors with their own sense of agency? Are they helpless? How does Draupadi’s marriage to five men make sense? How does one interpret women’s ability to summon gods in order to have children?

The battle of Mahabharata was a just war between two groups of first cousins, the Kauravas and the Pandavas, for the throne of Hastinapur. The elaborately illustrated visual family tree at the beginning of the novel helped me understand these complex relationships. However, unlike the Mahabharata story, Song of Draupadi does not begin or end with the brothers’ stories. A circular narrative follows the protagonist, Draupadi, through her entire life, from birth to death. As the novel progressed, I met other powerful women such as Ganga, Satyavati, Amba, Gandhari, and Kunti.

Rani Satyavati of Hastinapur, my favorite character, did not come from a royal family. Despite her humble beginnings, the fisherwoman rose to become a king’s wife, mother, and grandmother. Satyavati’s cunning (she persuaded the old, lustful Raja Shantanu to marry her and forced him to swear that only Satyavati’s sons would be the rightful heirs of Hastinapur) made her the most ambitious regent—more powerful than any king or male regent of that throne. As a result, each of the women mentioned in the novel played critical roles in shaping the fate of ancient India’s Kshatriya rulership.

Book Review of Ira Mukhoty’s Song of Draupadi  

Title Song Of Draupadi
ISBN 9789390652242
Edition 1st Published, 2021
Number of Pages 312
Country India
Language English

Ira Mukhoty‘s lush poetic language evoked the atmosphere of ancient India. To keep the fragrance of ‘Bharat’, she borrowed Hindi words like godhuli, takht, swayamvar, and brahmacharya. But it was Draupadi’s tempestuous personality that surprised me the most—a dark feral beauty born of agni, with blue lotus eyes—vocal, fiery, and steadfast in her vow. Draupadi, the Pandavas’ wife, was wagered and lost in a dice game to the Kauravas by her husbands.

After the Pandavas lost her, one of the Kauravas dragged her by her hair into a courtroom full of men and presented her as their slave. Despite the fact that all of the family’s elderly men were present, no one came to her aid. Draupadi, filled with rage and pain, swore an oath to avenge her humiliation: she would cleanse her hair with the blood of her assailant. She was unafraid to criticize her husbands’ silence and later incited them to war. As her character developed, I realized that Draupadi was more than a devi to be revered; she was a trailblazer.

Mahabharata is a fundamental story of undivided India

The Mahabharata is a fundamental story, especially for the people of undivided India. Its verses were written originally by Brahmin men. All the heroines were pushed behind the scenes in this epic of valorous heroes, which was versified by society’s upper-class male figures. Their voices were muffled, and everything the women said was transformed into ventriloquism. Mukhoty allows us to hear these voices. Her heroes are flawed, corrupted by lust and power, while her heroines are astute and determined.

The Ancient Greek epics Iliad and Odyssey are among the most well-known of all time. For many decades, their translated versions have been part of English literature. Recently, we’ve seen feminist retellings of these myths, such as Madelline Miller’s Circe (2018) and The Song of Achilles (2011). Because the Sanskrit epic Mahbharata is not as widely read in English as the Western epics Iliad and Odyssey, many readers may be unfamiliar with the culture represented by the Mahbharata. The Song of Draupadi alters this.

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