As in many cultures, India views going into the woods as a transformative experience for the heroic. The Pandavas, instead of having to serve as slaves, are given an alternative loss by the Kauravas, because of the intervention of Krsna. The Padavas go into the woods for twelve years, and then spend a thirteenth year in disguise. We’ll deal with that 13th year in the next entry.
In this section of the saga, the Pandavas experience individual stories of revelation and daring do. Arjuna meets his father and is blessed by him. Yudhisthira learns how to never lose at dice. Bhima has a son with a rakshasa. There is much philosophizing about revenge, with Yudhisthira always taking a more balanced view of karma and how the world works.
At the end of the 12 years, the 5 Pandavas and Draupadi are leaner and meaner, and ready to go off to work in the kingdom of Virata. In disguise.