We have all heard the name of Markandeya Rushi (or Muni), who came to Dharma and Bhakti's home in Chhapaiya and undertook the naming 'Sanskar' of 'bal swaroop' Ghanshyam Maharaj. He gave the names of Hari, Krushna, Hari Krushna and Nilkantha. In our Swaminarayan Sampraday the great saint Mahanubhavanand was considered to be the incarnation of Markandeya Muni. Also one of the eighteen Puranas is known as Markandeya Puran where the story of his life is given in detail. So let's take a glimpse into his life and look at some of the facts that are known.
Markandeya Rushi was the son of Mrukanda Rushi whose ancestor was Bhrugu Rushi. From the very young age Markandeya Rushi practiced penance and Brahmacharya and spent most of his time in meditation. As a Brahmachari he used to maintain silence and only ate once a day. Sometimes he would have to go without food if he did not get 'Bhiksha'. He spent most of his time in devotion to God and study of 'Vedas'. He continued this practice for one hundred thousand years and had conquered death. In other words he had become immortal. Brahma, Shiva and other Devas were astonished at the Muni's achievements. With deep meditation and hard penance his mind had become free of all blemishes. Thus six 'manvantars' (one 'manvantar' is equal to 30,67,20,000 years) had passed by. In the seventh 'manvantar' Lord Indra, out of jealousy, decided to ruin his penance and meditation and sent many of his servants to distract Markandeya Rushi. Markandeya's 'ashram' was at the base of Himalayas, where river Pushpa Bhadra flowed near Chitra glacier. In this very serene and quite ashram, Indra sent beautiful Apasaras, musicians and dancers. Even Kamadev was sent to distract Mankandeya but none of them succeeded.
Pleased at the achievement of Markandeya Rushi, Nar Narayan Dev appeared before him to give him Darshan. The two swaroops were tall in stature and were surrounded by light which was as bright as lightening. Markandeya Muni was overcome with emotion and could hardly speak to Nar Narayandev. He bowed and with hands folded together began to sing the praises and offered prayers to Nar Narayandev.
Nar Narayandev praised the steadfast devotion, powerful penance, and strong control of senses by Markandeya Muni and asked him to wish for a boon. Markandeya Mini said that your darshan was a boon in itself but he would like to see your 'Maya' which some of the 'Devas' consider to be separate from you. Nar Narayandev gave that boon and with a smile on his face went back to Badrikashram.
One evening Markandeya Muni was in meditation on the banks of river Pushpa Bhadraa. Strong wind began to blow and huge dark clouds began to form in the sky. Suddenly a storm developed and there was very heavy rain with thunder and lightening. It rained for a long time and there was water every where. The river level suddenly rose and the whole land began to be submerged under water. Markandeya Muni became very concerned and was frightened. Water levels continued to rise and in a short time the whole earth had been submerged. Markandeya Muni was now the only survivor left. He began to wade through deep water and had lost all sense of direction. Huge waves began to toss him about and he had to fend off huge fish and crocodiles swimming in the water. At times he thought he was being eaten alive by these sea creatures. There was darkness every where and the Great Muni, suffering from hunger and thirst, kept on wandering aimlessly. At times he was experiencing grief and delusion and at other times he would experience happiness or painful suffering or even death. Surrounded by the web of 'Maya' He wandered about for one 'Shanku' years.(10,000,000,000,000 years). Then he came to a high earth plateau and on it saw a banyan tree with fruit and newly sprouted leaves. On one bowl shaped leaf of the tree he saw a small child sleeping quietly. The child had a dark skin but very bright aura was emanating from his body and he was beautifully dressed. He was surprised to see such a child in the watery wilderness and became very excited. He no longer felt tired and happily approached the child to discover why he was there. Suddenly, like a mosquito he was sucked into the child's body. Inside the child's stomach he saw the same world as it was before being submerged under water. He saw the whole creation including his ashram and river Pushpa Bhadra and other Rushis in his ashram. He could not understand this phenomenon and before he could think of what to do, he was thrown out of the body via the child's powerful breathing and was thrown back into the ocean. From there he could see the banyan tree and the child on a leaf. The child was smiling at Markandeya Muni who now realised that it was the bal swaroop Bhagwan himself. He approached the child to embrace but suddenly everything disappeared. The banyan tree, the water and the whole destruction of the creation no longer existed. Markandeya Muni found himself back in his 'Ashram'. Having experienced the splendour of 'Maya' shown by Nar Narayandev, Markandeya Muni went to seek his protection. He had been enchanted by 'Maya' and he begged forgiveness from Nar Narayandev for asking him to show him that 'Maya'. Having prayed to Nar Narayandev, he resumed his meditation when Lord Shiva with his wife Parvati came to the Ashram. The Muni was deep in concentration and was not aware of the arrival of Lord Shiva and Parvati so he did not welcome them. In order to make him aware Lord Shiva gave him internal vision and the great Muni was truly surprised to see them and bowed to them and worshipped them with all the things in his possession. Lord Shiva was very pleased at the devotion of Markandeya Muni and offered to give him a boon. He praised Markandeya Muni and said that Rushis like him were the most sacred and a person will attain eternal salvation just by having darshan of such a holy saint. Markandeya Muni replied that it was difficult for a mortal to fully understand the greatness and the enchanting 'Leelaas' of Bhagwan. I have had your darshan and that is my just reward. I do not need to ask you for anything else. But as you have asked I beg you to grant me steadfast devotion to God, to his devotees and to yourself.
Lord Shiva, with Parvati's approval, granted his wish and said that all his desires will be fulfilled and his fame will be sung across the world for a long time and that he will achieve immortality. He also said that Markandeya Muni will achieve the knowledge of the past the present and the future, will achieve permanent state of renunciation and will become the Acharya of all the Puranas.
Thus Lord Shiva and Parvati, having granted the wishes of Markandeya Muni, and appreciating his greatness departed from the Ashram. Markandeya Muni had now mastered the glory of yoga which allowed the soul to unite with the Lord Supreme. He had also become a devotee with the single aim of pleasing God with total devotion. Even today Markandeya Muni, in physical form, is roaming the earth and it is quite likely that some day someone will receive his blessings just like Ghanshyam had done in Chhapaiya.
Ref: Shreemad Bhagwat, 12th Skandha.