After Bakasura was slain, the Pandavas were living a quiet life.
One day, a learned Brahmin visited them. The Pandavas entertained him as their guest. At the request of the Pandavas, the Brahmin spoke to them about the various countries he had visited and about moral values. He then spoke of the Swayamvara* of Draupati, the daughter of the Panchala king Drupada (also kown as Yagnasena). He also narrated the story of Drupada’s obtaining his son Drishtadyumna and daughter Draupadi through a sacrifice.
After the Brahmin had let, Kunti suggested that they leave for Panchala since they had stayed at Ekachakra for a long time. Her sons agreed. They left that place after taking leave of the Brahmin in whose hose they were residing.
As promised by him earlier, Vyasa came to see them. Kunti and her sons received the sage and paid obeisance to him. After enquiring about their welfare and their activities and advising of their moral duty to pursue a virtuous path, he narrated a story.
A sage had a daughter. Though she was beautiful and virtuous, she could not get a husband. She practiced ascetic penances for seeking a good husband for her. Pleased by her penances, Lord Siva appeared before her and asked her to seek any boon that she wished. She said, “Oh lord! Give me a husband endowed with all accomplishments.” In her anxiety, she repeated her request several times.
Lord Siva said, “You will have five husbands from the Bharata race.”
The girl replied, “Oh lord! I want to have only one husband.”
Siva said, “Since you made your request five times, you will have five husbands. But this will happen in your next birth.”
Vyasa said, “That girl has been born as the princess of Panchala. Go to the Panchala kingdom and reside there. You will be very happy after getting her as your wife.”
Vyasa then took leave of them.
(There is a kind of ambiguity here. It is not clear whether the Pandavas left for Panchala after hearing what Vyasa had said or after listening to the Brahmin who visited them. Possibly, one of the two incidents is an interpolation into the text. We can see this kind of a discontinuity at several places. Perhaps some scholars had studied these and given some valid reasons for them.)
Kunti and Pandavas left for Panchala. When they were walking on the banks of the Ganga, a Gandharva who was sporting in the river with his wives intercepted them.
He told them, “As you know, except for the first forty seconds, the twilight preceding the nightfall is earmarked for the wandering of the Yakshas, the Gandharvas and the Rakshasas, near reservoirs of water. If any other person wanders near any pool of water during this time, we will kill them. Therefore, even kings do not come near any reservoir of water during this appointed time. I am Angarparna (the blazing vehicle), the Gandharva and I am a friend of Kubera. This forest is called Angarparna, after my name. Even Devas, Yakshas, Kapalikas or other Gandharvas do not dare to set foot on my land. So, how dare do you walk on the banks of the Ganga at this time?”
Arjuna replied, “Whether it is day, night or twilight, who can bar anyone from visiting the ocean, the Himalayas and this sacred river? People who are too weak to fight you may fear you and avoid coming here. But we are mighty people capable of taking on you. So, we are not concerned about disturbing you. This river emanating from the Himalayas gets distributed into seven streams before reaching the ocean, the streams being Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Vitashtha, Sarayu, Gomati and Gandaki. All the seven streams have the power to clean people of their sins. This Ganga, flowing through the Devaloka (the land of the celestials) is called Alakananda and flowing through the Pitruloka (the world of the Pitrus – our deceased ancestors), it becomes Vitarani, a river difficult for sinners to cross. Why do you prevent us from going to this auspicious river that can lead us to the Heaven?”
Enraged by Arjuna’s words, Angarparna began to shoot arrows from his bow on Arjuna. After warding them off using a shirld, Arjuna told him “I consider you to be superior to men in prowess. Therefore I shall fight you with the celestial weapon which was given by Vrishapati, the preceptor of Indra to Bharadwaj, from whom it was passed on to Agnivesya, from him to my preceptor Drona and from him to me.”
Arjuna hurled the weapon at Angarparna. The weapon burnt the Gandharva’s chariot making him fall head downward. Arjuna seized his head and dragged him towards Yudhishtira. Kumbhinasi, the Gandharva’s wife appealed to Yudhishtira to save her husband’s life. Yudhishtira asked Arjuna to spare the life of the Gandharva and Arjuna obeyed his brother’s command.
The Gandharva told Arjuna, “From now, I abandon my name Angarparna, since I have been vanquished by you. In return for your sparing my life, I want to impart to you the science of producing illusions, which only the Gandharvas have mastered. This science called Chakshushi was taught by Manu to Soma, by Soma to Viswavasu and by Viswavasu to me. I will also give you and your brothers hundred horses, born in the land of the Gandharvas. These horses, the offspring of Vadava, have been used for carrying the Devas and the Gandharvas because of their ability to run very fast.”
Arjuna said that he could not accept the gifts if they were given in return for his sparing the life of the Gandharva. The Gandharva said, “Lest the gifting should appear to flow in one direction, I will accept from you the weapon of fire, as your gift to me.”
Arjuna agreed to this suggestion. He told the Gandharva that they would remain friends forever.
*Swayamvara – an event in which a prospective bride 9a princess)will choose her groom from among the men offering to marry her. This practice had prevailed mostly among kings.