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Markandeya Rishi sees the illusory potency of the Lord.
Being satisfied by the rishi’s glorification, Lord Narayana said, “My dear Markandeya, you are indeed the best of all learned brahmanas. We are perfectly satisfied by your lifelong practice of celibacy. Now, please choose whatever benedictions you desire.”
Markandeya said, “O Lord of lords, all glories unto You! You remove all distress for the devotees who surrender unto You. That You have allowed me to see You is all the benediction I want. Lord Brahma had achieved his exalted position simply by seeing Your lotus feet, within his purified mind. What then is my good fortune, since You have personally appeared before Me?”
“Still, O lotus-eyed Lord, I would like to see Your illusory potency, by which even the ruling demigods consider the material manifestation to be factual.”
Being satisfied with Markandeya, the Supreme Lord smilingly replied, “So be it” and then departed for His hermitage at Badarikashrama. The Lord was smiling ruefully, because He prefers that His pure devotees stay away from the illusory energy.
While constantly thinking of his desire to see the Lord’s illusory energy, Markandeya continued to reside in his ashrama, meditating constantly on the Lord and worshiping Him with paraphernalia conceived within his mind. Sometimes, Markandeya would forget to perform his regular worship, however, becoming overwhelmed by love for the Lord.
Then, one evening, as Markandeya was performing his worship, on the banks of the River Pushpabhadra, a great wind suddenly blew, making a terrible sound. Fearsome clouds, accompanied by lightning and thunder, then filled the sky, and torrents of rain began to fall. The four oceans then appeared on all sides, covering the entire surface of the earth. Within the wind-tossed waves were terrible sea monsters, as well as giant whirlpools and ominous rumblings.
Markandeya became exceedingly perplexed and fearful, as he saw how all of the inhabitants of the universe were being tormented. Indeed, as he looked on- the water, which was being whipped into terrifying waves by hurricane-like winds, covered the entire surface of the earth, including the mountains. After inundating the earth, the water continued to cover all space until the entire universe was flooded.
Out of all the universe’s inhabitants, only Markandeya remained. With his matted hair scattered, the rishi wandered about within the water, as if dumb and blind. Tormented by hunger and thirst, attacked by monstrous aquatics, such as the timingila- and battered by the wind and waves, Markandeya wandered aimlessly through the infinite darkness in which he had fallen. Then, as he grew increasingly exhausted, Markandeya lost all sense of direction, so that he could no longer tell the sky from the earth.
Sometimes, Markandeya was drawn into great whirlpools. Sometimes, he was smashed down by gigantic waves, and at other times, great aquatic monsters threatened to devour him, as they fought among themselves. The rishi alternately felt lamentation, bewilderment, happiness, fear and misery, and sometimes, he felt so ill and suffered so much pain that he thought he would die. In this way, countless millions of years passed, Markandeya’s mind having become bewildered by the illusory energy of Lord Vishnu.
Then once, Markandeya came to a small island, upon which stood a young banyan tree, bearing fruit and blossoms. Upon a branch of the northeast portion of that tree, he saw a baby boy lying within a leaf- His effulgence dissipating the darkness. The infant’s complexion was dark blue, and His face shone with a wealth of beauty. His chest was broad, and on His neck were lines like those of a conch shell. His ears had inner folds like the spirals of a conch shell. The corners of His eyes were reddish, and the effulgence of His lips slightly reddened the enchanting smile on His face. As He breathed, His splendid hair trembled, and His deep navel became distorted by the moving folds of skin on His abdomen.
Then, as Markandeya looked, the child took hold of one of His lotus feet and placed a toe within His mouth and began to suck. (The Lord thought, “The devotees are always hankering after the nectar of My lotus feet. So, let Me personally experience that nectar.”)
As Markandeya continued to look at the child, all of his weariness vanished. Indeed, so great was his pleasure that the lotus of his heart appeared to blossom, and the hair on his body stood up on end. Wondering about the child’s identity, Markandeya approached Him. Just at that time, the child inhaled, drawing the rishi within His body like a mosquito.
Inside, Markandeya saw the entire universe as it had been before the dissolution, filled with all its inhabitants. He saw the basic elements of creation, along with their by-products- as well as time, itself. All was manifested as if real, and Markandeya was highly perplexed and astonished. He saw before him the Himalaya Mountains, the Pushpabhadra River, and his own ashrama.
Then, suddenly, the infant exhaled, casting Markandeya back into the ocean of dissolution. In that vast sea, he again saw the banyan tree growing on a tiny island, and the baby boy lying within a leaf. The child then glanced at Markandeya, out of the corner of His eyes, with a smile imbued with the nectar of love. Taking the Lord into his heart through his eyes, the greatly agitated rishi ran to embrace Him. But at that moment, the child became invisible, just as the achievements of an incompetent person can suddenly vanish. At the same time, the banyan tree and the water of dissolution vanished, and in an instant, Markandeya found himself back at his ashrama, just as before.