Sage Markandeya’s tapa and penance are prominent characteristics of the great sage. He continues to undergo meditation and severe penance for ages, and ultimately gains victory over death. Vanquishing death is difficult even for the yogis of great tapa. When the sage gets victory over death even Brahma, Bhrigu, Sankara, Daksa, Prajapati and various sons of gods, the wise men, the celestial beings, the manes and different created beings are astonished. It causes anxieties among the gods of heavens. To gain victory is not an easy task. The great sage is still engaged in the tapa of the Supreme Person with complete control on senses and miscellaneous vicarious attributes that drive a man to distraction. Thus, the spirit of resignation and surrender at the feet of the Supreme Person create suspicions in a subtle way in the minds of gods. The gods are suspicious of the severe penance the sage undergoes, who after achieving victory over death, is still engaged in meditation of the Supreme Lord. What could be the purpose of the sage troubled the minds of the lords of heavens. Naturally, they are eager to find a possible answer.
After ages, when lord Indra, the lord of gods, learns about the austere tapasya of the sage, he is doubtful and fears undefined disturb the lord immensely. Soon Indra begins to devise methods to disturb the tapa of the great sage. With intent to bring disgrace to the penance and consequent defeat, the very purpose for which the sage is engaged in tapa, he dispatches to the hermitage of sage Markandeya, the celestial beings so that meditation collapses midway.
Indra never wanted anyone to outshine him in the three worlds from the status he had attained, for he was the lord of gods. He sends to the ashrama of the sage many gandharavas, the celestial musicians, the nymphs, the heavenly women, the god of love and various deities presiding over the spring season and other breezes that work as stimulants and arouse feelings and emotions of passions the subtle weapons to wake up dormant senses. To unsettle mental equilibrium of the sage is required lord Indra thinks. He asks the celestial beings to disturb the penance of the saint, arouse feelings of passions and love when the sage is engaged in severe austerity. To distract the concentration of the great sage is the chief task of the celestial beings.
Indra’s efforts to disturb penance of the great sage
One can visualize what beautiful heavenly beauties are to do. What the lord of love is supposed to do he made it obvious. On the other hand, he requests breezes and seasons to stir passions, provoke inert feelings of love, and create intense love feelings in the mind of the sage, but no one succeeds. He does not forget to requisition the services of greed and pride, which lead to violence and ego. All the agents of lord Indra were to manipulate the sage and disturb devotion and penance.
Situated in the northern slopes of the Himalayas where river Puspabhadra flowed perennially, the hermitage of the great sage presented a tranquil and divine scenario. Near the legendary river, a huge rock Chitra appeared to add glory and sheen to the ashrama. The most sacred and hallowed ashrama adorned with sacred trees and creepers looked divine and majestic at the same time. The families of holy brahmins and sages surrounded it from all sides. It had a number of lakes of pure and sacred water, which catered to the needs. Nature had blessed the hermitage in abundance, and each object of nature blessed the ashrama with its beauty, soothing touch and harmony. Here, soul-filling melodies continued to sing the glories of the Supreme Spirit. In the ashrama, the chirping birds, the intoxicated humming bees, and the dancing peacocks lived in harmony and delighted every ear and eye.
Who would not like to come at a place full of divine beauty and abundance of joy? On instructions from the lord of heavens Indra, the lord of love Kamadeva, and Maruta the lord of wind, entered the hermitage of Markandeya along with many gandharavas with a band of musicians (experts in vocal and instrumental music). The wind-god filled each flower with unique fragrance, and passions flowed in the air in plenty with the support of the lord of love.
They worked in unison to fill the hermitage with excitement, love, passion, and the deadly ingredients aroused feelings of intensity. A crowd of musicians, dancers and beautiful celestial women (apasaras) appeared to entice and thrill anyone, and the sage was the target at that moment. They directed dangerous amorous darts towards the sage in deep tapa so that he collapses before the charming beauties apt in invigorating passions, precisely the objective they were to achieve.
Envoys of Indra work together to disturb the holy man Markandeya
When the emissaries of lord Indra arrived at the ashrama and completed initial functions of creating environment conducive to sensuous love and enjoyment in a perfect way, they observed that the sage was sitting in deep contemplation and equipoise. Intensity of the divine harmony reflected from the face. The great sage had closed eyes in deep meditation. He was divinity incarnate it appeared, for the radiance of the face exhibited glowing celestial energy. He appeared as if he were the lord of fire with the intensity to burn any evil or impurity of mind and heart. He sat before the sacred fire after pouring oblations to propitiate the deity and the Supreme Person and looked formidable and invincible. The celestial beings saw the great sage in a highly reflective posture before the sacred fire. The heavenly beings remembered only one objective. To disturb the sage in penance was the principal intention. In the initial stages, however, it appeared difficult to distract the reflective bearing of the great sage.
Indra was a lord, who could never easily submit to the greatness of any other sage or the god of heaven. He was forever prone to various conflicts and battles. However, with the intervention of the Supreme Person and blessings of lord Vishnu or Shiva or Brahma, Indra always won. Despite the divine powers, Indra faced many humiliating moments at the hands of the mighty demons. He was not involved in any other conflict with the sage.
Now, when he heard that Markandeya had even defeated death and thus, became immortal and continued with the great penance it created genuine doubts, for pre-eminence in heaven appeared shaky he felt. Indra sent the celestial beings to the hermitage of the sage with a mission to accomplish. Indra adopted a striking technique to beguile the sage with the devastating beauty of the nymphs.
Sage Markandeya sat with eyes closed in deep meditation and focused on the Supreme Person. At that moment, the beautiful celestial damsels began to dance before him whereas the songsters sang amorous songs. On the other hand, the heavenly musicians played on wonderful divine instruments capable of captivating anyone.
Gandharavas, the celestial musicians also played enchantingly on clay tom-toms, drums, lutes, strings and other musical instruments. Now, it was the turn of the lord of love. He took up the bow made with the help of various flowers, and set a five-pointed arrow to the string, fully ready for release so that it injures the great sage. At that time, when the lord of love was ready to aim at the sage, the spring, greed and other charismatic attendants of Indra tried to agitate the heart and mind of the holy sage and with the secreted energies, they exerted hard to divert the attention of the sage to worldly joys, material or otherwise.
All wanted to disturb the mind of the sage and so concentrated energies on the sage. Punjikasthali, the chief of the celestial damsels played with a number of balls in front of the sage and ran after the balls from this side to that in a slapdash but alluring mode so as to look sensuous and inviting. At that time, the slender waist of the heavenly nymph was very unsteady because of the weight of the full breasts. As she played with modesty and magical charm, she sent thrills of love and passion inherent in the eyes towards the sage in tapa. As she wanted to disturb the sage with terrific beauty, gaits and darts of eyes, looks and breasts, and so wreaths of flowers continued to drop from the braids.
At another moment, the swift but cautious and tempting movements of eyes and body this way or that way, caused disquieting portents. Again, the noiseless breeze blew away the fine garments tied around nymph’s wiry loins, the waistband and other delicate clothes covering the beautiful body. Apparently, it was difficult for any man, sage or god to resist the temptation of a fascinating celestial physique and beauty. Thus, lord Indra maneuvered a perfect drama to disturb sage Markandeya.
When the celestial beauty played with the balls, she also threw slanting looks around and at times, her eyes followed the balls going up towards the sky and then, she chased the balls falling on the ground and then, suddenly she was ready to fix the gaze on the ball closely held in the delicate palm. She ran after the balls with an emotional upsurge bordering on inciting passions in the hearts of the onlookers. At that time, while she ran about, the cord of sinuous waistband broke and at once, the wind-god blew away the garment.
The god of love found an appropriate moment to release the arrows of love and passion as the sage was already conquered, he optimistically thought. The lord of love believed that it would become difficult for the sage to withstand the curvaceous and stunning beauty of the celestial woman. Thinking loudly over the apparent victory, the lord of love darted off the shaft that very minute. However, all efforts failed. He was unfortunate and he knew that the lord of gods Indra was also watching each move of attendants. Therefore, he continued to make concerted attempts to distract the sage but everything proved futile.
The lord of love and the celestial beings knew the immensity of tapa but continued efforts to defeat the sage and it stuns Indra, the Supreme Lord appears as Nara and Narayana
He understood that the sage had infinite spiritual and divine glow and mystic power. It was correct that they came to the ashrama to disturb the sage but somehow they were unable to materialize the efforts. The lord of love, the wind god and other celestial beings along with the spring season and rajas gunas, assailed the sage but proved ineffective to dislodge the great sage and upset ascetic tapa. The very energy, the heat of tapa and penance of the sage began to scorch the glory of the extraterrestrial servants of lord Indra, who wanted to offend and hypnotize the sage into the tantalizing and amorous joys of life. When they felt the burns of tapa of the great sage, they preferred to run away like the children, who rouse a sleeping little snake out of curiosity.
Thus, the emissaries of the lord of gods tried hard to deflect the sage from deep meditation but failed miserably. Sage Markandeya did not fall prey to passions, love, greed or ego and so, they failed to rouse such emotions in the mind of the sage despite awesome efforts.
It is true that transitory joys and gratification never agitate exalted souls. When the lord of gods, finally learnt that the gods of love and wind had returned defeated, he was disillusioned. However, he also came to know about the glory of supremely blessed sage, and therefore, amazement and doubts besieged the lord of gods and so, Indra thought prudent to withdraw and accept the status, truth of tapa and penance of the holy sage.
Engaged in meditation and tapa quite often, the sage would concentrate on the Supreme Lord through the observance of austerity, asceticism, study of Holy Scriptures and self-control. Immensely pleased with the tapa of monk Markandeya, the Supreme Lord appeared in the images of divine sages Nara and Narayana. Even Brahma and other gods of heaven revered the two sages, who had fair and dark complexion with eyes resembling lotuses. They possessed four arms each and were clad in the skin of a black buck and looked dark. They wore rings of sacred grass kusa and had the threefold thread of three strands. The divine looking lords were of tall stature with a golden bearing and luster, resembled the bright flashes of lightning, and thus, were true embodiments of asceticism.
The glow emanating out of the monks enthralled. Markandeya, in deep meditation was aware of the great event and observed the dazzling divine presence, and on bearing in mind the monks Nara and Narayana, he rose from the seat and greeted the divine monks, the manifestations of the almighty lord with great reverence. He prostrated before the holy feet of the monks as if he were a log of wood. The divine glimpses of the great lord in the guise of monks infused ecstatic joy. He tasted nectar-like rapturous moments as each particle of body, all the senses and mind experienced elation and excitement. In intensity of divine experience water filled eyes, and a continuous flow of tears created unique haziness, and therefore, he could not enjoy a clear vision of the divine monks.
Unique experience of the divine fulfills the monk
Markandeya experienced a celestial presence within. He joined hands in prayer and worship, and stood with a bowed head harbouring a sublime thought of embracing the monks. His yearnings and longings increased each moment.
Tears in eyes, filled with intensity of divine joy and with wavering words that exhibited love and devotion of the highest kind, he said, “I salute you, O divine monks.” He overflowed with deep poignant love for the heavenly monks, true manifestations of the great lord. He was unable to say anything more. Then the sage got up, brought water, washed the holy feet of the divine-incarnates, offered sacred sandal paste, incense and garlands then, worshipped the monks.
When the two most dignified sages were comfortable in the ornamented seats, seemed happy and contented, sage Markandeya bowed at the feet of the monks once more, and spoke softly and reverently, “O lords, how I can praise you?”
He began with a dithering voice, “How I can depict the eternal virtues. In truth, you and you alone impel functions of the vital air. Nothing moves without you. As you operate through the vital air, it also flows in speech, mind and senses (the senses of perception and the organs of action). The created beings feel your divine presence, for it touches every moment. The moment it stops touching or flowing through the body it heralds the end.” He stopped in a moment of ecstasy.
After a pause, the sage resumed, “O great lords, you register your presence through the vital air. Not only you sign your presence in all the created or embodied beings including Brahma, the birth less creator and lord Shiva, the god of destruction but you also work eternally, as you drive and encourage the vital air. You propel function of the vital air. You are a friend of the soul.” Thus, the sage continued to praise the divine presence and was overwhelmed with the feelings of love and devotion. It became difficult for the sage to express intensity of devotion he cultivated for the Supreme Lord, who appeared in personified forms of Nara and Narayana.
Markandeya enjoys divine presence and a realization enriches lifelong yearnings and the monk speaks of the unity, oneness and dispels doubts that do not recognize unity in creation and owes life and existence to the lord
The holy sage wholly captivated the Supreme Lord with devotion and tapa. He recalled how the lord descended on earth in different forms to alleviate the sufferings of the living beings. He came to protect the created beings from the attack of evil forces and ghostly spirits. He revealed the true forms to put an end to the sufferings. The lord showed the path to liberation and assumed different forms like the divine Fish in order to guard the universe the sage extols.
He knew that the lord devoured everything after evolving it and worked like a spider. He understood that the impurities of deeds and the modes of nature (the three gunas) and Time could not pollute or distort him, who took shelter at the feet of the lord, for he was the ruler of the immobile and the mobile creation. The great lord was the only safe retreat for the living beings, the sage told while he looked at the revered monks. In many words, the great sage praised profusely the two monks, who he thought as the manifestations of the Supreme Lord.
The sage was conscious of the fact that the great lord was the origin and energy, the inspiring agent and the source, the propeller and the driving force behind everything in the animate and the inanimate world. He was the invisible and the visible also. He was the sound and the soundless also. In fact, nothing sustained or breathed without him, the sage realized and so, he told the monks even as he continued to adore and worship the embodiments of the great lord.
In other words, the sage said that the great lord was the creator, the preserver and the destroyer of all the creations (the created beings - the animate and the inanimate). He spoke about the glories of the lord for a long time and at last, he bowed at the feet and said, “I bow before you O lord, the Supreme Person in you. Your holy vision and image reveal the true secret of the self, the self as attained only through the holy Vedas. Even the great Brahma, the birth less creator of the universe finds himself in utter bewilderment while continues efforts to comprehend the supreme nature, the inherent orientation (which to the ignorant appears entirely baffling and hazy) of the subtle vital air and its meaning manifested in you.”
“In reality and truth, you exist in all embodied beings as knowledge, who assumes various characters conforming to the conception of different schools of thought. It is through the subtle knowledge and yoga also that one can reach the ultimate meaning. I salute and worship you O Supreme Lord.” After he praised eloquently, the sage was silent.
The wise sage thus, eulogized the virtues of the Supreme Lord. The monks were extremely happy with the sage. The divine lord said, “O great sage, you attained perfection with the concentration of mind, devotion, tapa and penance, and studied deeply the holy Vedas while you exercised asceticism and self-control. We are highly delighted that you observed the vow of lifelong celibacy. God may bless you, O great sage. I am the lord and swami of all the gods and goddesses, sages and seers and the celestial beings capable of granting boons to the creating beings. O holy sage, you may ask anything and I shall blissfully confer on you any boon.” Thus, the great lord, the Supreme Creator revealed the true self.
The sage humbly said, “O lord of all gods, you provide shelter to all. I hail you O great lord. It is enough for the living beings. You showed kindness and generosity, you revealed the great Self and delighted with the divine glimpses.”
The holy sage made it quite clear that all were obliged to the lord, who dispelled sufferings and agonies. Lords like Brahma and Shiva were grateful to the Supreme Lord for the divine revelation and so they were immensely gratified. Later on, the sage humbly requested the lord to shower compassion and reveal the nature of maya (the delusory potency), under the mystic influence of which all the three worlds including the guardians of the spheres perceived diversity in unity in the form of manifold creation. It appeared one and still it had many forms, and in part, it was the whole.
The great monk delights the Supreme Person
The lord was already pleased. He granted the boon and later on, withdrew to his abode. The holy sage deeply meditated on the great lord. Each moment, he kept concentrating on the lord, for the lord had promised the vision of the maya (delusory potency). He just waited for the divine moment of the great Revelation. While living in the hermitage, the sage was deeply engrossed in tapa and mediation and visualized the great lord in the sacred fire, the sun, the moon, the water, the earth, the air, the ether and the self, and in fact, in each particle of the animate and the inanimate.
Thus, the sage worshipped the lord with articles as the dedicated mind conceived. At times, the devotion was so intense that he forgot to pray and worship. Such were the ecstatic moments of a true devotee (bhakta) of the Supreme. On a certain day, when the sage worshipped on the riverbank, a furious wind began to blow. Soon, the terrible rain with streams of drops of water as thick as the axle of the chariot surprised. The weather of noise, thunders, and frightful clouds, flashes of lightning and sounds of loud and noisy rambling created terrifying conditions around.
He noticed wonderful oceans in the four quarters with dreadful whirlpools where frightening water animals appeared on the surface and seemed anxious to run about for life. It appeared that the strange beings would devour the entire earth. Rising waves looked full of fury and rage and the fourfold creation namely mammals, oviparous creatures, the sweat born and those sprouting from the earth and so on, were tortured, and the devastating occurrence disillusioned the sage. The terrific rising of waves and the noise with blasts and strokes of lightning flooded the entire earth. He witnessed a great deluge on the banks of river Puspabhadra. Thus, he observed the whole universe comprising the earth and the aerial regions, all the spheres, heavens and various worlds inundated, and everything faced perdition along with the four quarters and the living creation.
He witnesses a scenario of total extinction (mahapralaya), and speaks of life-threatening experiences and the eternal truth
It was a picture of total annihilation, disillusionment and great hope. It was a unique scenario. Everything appeared almost perished. Nothing seemed alive. The created beings throbbing with life had gone into the womb of oblivion it looked as if. As if total devastation had come. Sage Markandeya witnessed everything in total dismay and fright. It was a ghastly portrait of the disastrous end of the worlds.
He was the only survivor at that period of annihilation it was presumed. Left alone, he was the only living being, who drifted along and ran about in panic like a blind person, for strong winds and heavy torrents made it difficult to see things clearly, as the matted lock tossed about. He, thus, tried to save life.
Now, in a terrible situation, acute thirst and hunger gave enough trouble. The strong waves carried everything on the surface in a continuous process and pushed him from one shore to the other, and at other moments, he was in the middle with virtual uncertainty. It was an experience of the sage to live between life and death so close. Terrifying alligators, crocodiles, whales and sharks attacked in the midst of frightening waves but the water animals, too, faced dangers to life from the forceful waves. Thus, strong waters struck fiercely and enveloped him in endless darkness overcome with fatigue, and he felt totally done up. The water animals stung again while a struggle among the water animals to seize and devour him continued because they also experienced hunger.
He was now in a state of delirium and stupefaction. It I was delusion and hallucination. It was a vision filling mind and heart with fear, terror and death. Grief appeared to overwhelm a noble soul. At another moment, infatuation assailed and still, at another time, he felt extremely sorrow-stricken with no hope of life. He was a sage one ought to remember. Death did not perturb but the total destruction and death of creation, of the vast universe, of the heavens, of the celestial beings and of the spheres proved agonizing to the sage.
Now, he tossed between the opposite feelings of fear, bravery, life, death, joy, disillusionment and afflictions of various kinds. It appeared to the divinely gifted sage that millions of years had rolled into oblivion as he continued to drift along the current of water. The holy sage thought genuinely and witnessed a great deluge (the great Mahapralaya), perdition, and devastation beyond imagination as the strong currents of water drove him away where he observed no horizon, no limit and as such, it was a glimpse of the infinite charisma of natural happening. He thought deep for a long time and then, did not think further, and again after deep excruciating deliberations, he concluded that he had failed to judge the mystery of creation and annihilation because the enchanting potency of lord Vishnu had overshadowed wisdom he very easily visualized.
Miseries continue for millions of years and appearance of a child amazes the sage
For millions of years, Markandeya continued to flow in the water of the deluge but he foresaw no end to the miseries. Once, on the raised portion of earth seemingly a hillock, the monk noticed a tiny and tender banyan tree adorned with leaves and red healthy fruit. On one of the branches in the northeast of banyan tree, he observed a hollow of the leaves, a nest in which a child slept. The strange child appeared to devour the darkness around with the beams of light emanating from the little body.
Sage Markandeya was stunned to behold the charisma of nature, which was dark green like the colour of precious emerald. A beautiful lotus like countenance filled splendour around. The child held a conch shaped neck, a broad chest, a shapely nose like the beak of a parrot with charming eyebrows. Graceful locks of the child fluttered abound while he breathed. Everything about the child appeared wonderful and divine. Nature specially offered its divine artisans to add beauty to the child it seemed. The tiny child’s glances enlivened with a celestial smile, and enchanted one’s heart, and at that amazing moment, the child placed the lotus-like foot into the mouth, and lifted it up with little nimble and pretty fingers.
The holy man looked at the smiling and cheery face of the child, and felt extremely happy and his fatigue disappeared altogether. With extreme sense of delight and joy, the lotus like heart and eyes brightened up with hopes of life and creation. His body was excited and thrilled. He noticed wonderful divine expressions on the face of the child, and therefore, many suspicions and anxieties about the wonderful amiable postures of the child cautioned the sage. He wanted to comprehend the mystery of the magnificent child, who appeared amidst utterly devastating situation.
Many questions - ‘who is the child’, ‘from where did he come’, and ‘how he arrived here in the lonely top of the hillock’ assailed sage’s inquisitive mind.
Strangely enough, while he thought over the existence of the alluring phenomenon, the sage, a scion of Bhrigu, abruptly, like a humming mosquito entered the body of the child through its breath and reached its stomach. A wonderful charisma opened up when he peeped into the belly of the tiny child. It was a whole universe, as it existed before the total annihilation, the legendary deluge. He witnessed a fantastic scenario and looked thunderstruck and perplexed. It was the same universe, exact and captivating to the last particle with not an iota of it having undergone any change.
He was almost dumbfounded and shocked and did not think anything. In the tiny belly of the child, he saw the aerial regions consisting of the planets, the stars and the meteors, the sky, the amazing constellation of luminaries, the heavens, the earth, the mountains, the oceans, the islands, the years, the various directions, the spheres and the regions. He noticed minutely the gods and goddesses, daityas, rakasasas, demons, forests, countries, rivers, cities and the various components that made the vast earth and he found everything in existence. Everything of use to the created beings existed one could imagine and see picturesquely.
The sage, in the tiny stomach of the child was lost in the wonders of the universe. It was a complete new universe where existed all the sins, the virtues, the modes of prakriti, the pleasures of the senses and the celestial delight. All the classes and divisions of the society existed in the tiny universe. As he threw glances around, he enjoyed a panoramic view of things, he did not recollect easily. It was the universe in the tiny stomach of the child and he stood mystified. Everything including time and space based on which the demeanor and character of the universe was determined and evaluated, existed and still he found the mechanism did not see change.
Even while he observed and assessed its significance, strangely enough, some unknown force swiftly threw the sage out of the belly of the child through its breath and he fell down on the waves of the terrible deluge. He had amazing glimpses of the whole universe in the stomach of the child. The holy sage witnessed once more, a banyan tree growing on an elevated portion of the earth and a child in a nest made of leaves. His lips emitted nectar like smiles and the divine child looked at the sage. Filled with love and emotions at the scene where the child threw divine glances at him, he moved to embrace the child, who was none other than the great lord Vishnu, the benign Supreme Person, who entered the sage’s heart through the doors of eyes, and took a seat. Thus, the great sage realized that the lord resided in the heart. He understood that the child was lord Vishnu, the master of yoga, who dwelt in the hearts of the created beings. Next moment, the child abruptly disappeared and the sage stood alone, and aghast.
Lost in deep deliberation as if it were a dream, a charisma, a mystery, a truth, a hallucination, a maya, a reality, the sage knew that the Supreme Lord lived in him. He realized that the Supreme was not only the lord of yogis but he was also, the lord of yogas firmly situated in the hearts of the created beings. Still, he was to reach the great lord, when the lord withdrew and he looked on in amazement as the divine sparkle illuminated the inner man. After a few moments, the great sage Markandeya was sitting in the ashrama, the holy hermitage.