The sage Mārkaṇḍeya narrated several traditional stories to the Pāṇḍavas during their stay in Dvaitavana. The story of Dharma-vyādha is one among those.
One day, the northeast winds brought along with a divine Saugandhika flower. Deeming this to be an auspicious omen, Draupadī picked up the flower, went to Bhīma, and said, “Bhīmasena! Did you see how beautiful this flower is! I shall go and give this to Dharmarāja. Bring me many more of such flowers; let us take it to the Kāmyaka forest!” According to her wishes, Bhīma set out, armed with his weapons, following the fragrance in the wind, and identifying the direction of the origin of the flower.
The Pāṇḍavas longed for the company of Arjuna and were getting bored without him; they set out on a tīrthayātra (pilgrimage) with the intention of acquiring puṇya and also to get rid of the boredom. They reached Naimiṣāraṇya, took a dip in the river Gomatī, and travelled around several famous and sacred spots. They finally reached the āśrama of Agastya. There Lomaṣā narrated the story and greatness of Agastya to them.
Keśinī met Bāhuka and asked him when they had started for Vidarbha, how long they had travelled and what the purpose of their visit was. He told her that they had started their journey the previous evening and come to attend the second svayamvara of Damayantī.
Keśinī – Who is the other person who has accompanied you on the trip? How do you know him and what is he here for? What is your occupation?
The brāhmaṇas left in search of Naḻa, as per the words of Damayantī. Several days later, a brāhmaṇa named Parṇāda came back and said to Damayantī, “Mother! As per your directions, I set out in the search for the king of Niṣadha, Naḻa, and after traveling for many days, I ended up in the royal court of Ayodhya. I narrated your account there. Neither the king Ṛtuparṇa nor his associates had anything to say about this. However, his charioteer, Bāhuka came to me when I was alone. He is ugly-looking and of a short stature.
Thereafter Damayantī continued walking in the dense forest. After crossing several hills, mountains, and rivers she finally came across a walking trail. She began walking on the path when she found a river that had a fleet of merchant ships parked on its bank. Emaciated, with dishevelled hair, and covered in but half a sari, Damayantī appeared like a mad woman; looking at her, some shrunk away in fear, some ran away, and some others mocked her with derisive laughter. Only a few approached her with empathy and asked her who she was and what she was doing there.
Kali had to wait for a whole twelve years until he could find a flaw in Naḻa. He went to Naḻa’s friend Puṣkara, instigated him to invite Naḻa to play a game of dice, and he (i.e. Kali) entered the dice that would be used for the gamble. When invited, Naḻa could not refuse to play. Falling prey to Kali’s rage, Naḻa lost all his gold, wealth, chariots, and so forth even as Damayantī watched the game. The madness of the game befuddled his mind and he played like a man who is unconsciousness of his body. None of his friends were able to stop him.
There lived a king named Naḻa in the province of Niṣadha. He was strong, virtuous, handsome, and was considered foremost among the kings. The province of Vidarbha was ruled by a king named Bhīma who had a daughter named Damayantī and three sons – Dama, Dānta, and Damana. Damayantī’s beauty and noble character was known far and wide. It appeared that men and devatas had never seen a lady like her. Anyone who came to see her spoke highly of Naḻa and anyone who visited Naḻa praised Damayantī before him.
Arjuna stood there and undertook a terrible penance, subsisting entirely on fruits and leaves. Aggrieved by this, all the great seers in that region went to meet Śiva. Giving them solace, Śiva said, “All you return to your homes with joy and contentment; I know about Arjuna’s saṅkalpa (intention, conviction); he desires not the heavens, or wealth, or long life; what he wishes for, I shall send it to him at once!” He then donned the garb of a hunter, took his bow Pināka, and set out along with Pārvatī.
Draupadī said, “I am not denigrating dharma nor am I criticizing the Supreme; I'm just lamenting about my difficulties. The fruit of the action manifests itself only through karma, not through dharma; a man who falls asleep, entirely dependent on fate gets destroyed like a green pot kept in water. A capable man should not sit idle and silent for a long time, like one who is helpless. If one lacks competence, the fruits of his actions might be limited or he may not get anything; but one who doesn’t engage himself in action neither gets competence nor the fruits.