Once there was a rishi couple, Mrikandu and his wife Marudvati, who were ardent followers of Lord Shiva.They had every thing they wanted except for the love of a child. Desperate to procure a son, they began praying to Lord Shiva. Shiva was very pleased with their devotion and appeared before them and offered them a choice. Would they want a son who would be an idiotbut live for hundred years or a son who will be extremely intelligent and would live only for sixteen years? Rishi Mrikandu said that he would like to have an intelligent son. Lord Shiva blessed the couple and granted them the boon. Soon the couple was blessed with a son who was named Markandeya. Markandeya grew into a handsome and intelligent lad. He mastered the Vedas very quickly. But as he grew older, he noticed his parents getting sadder with each passing day. On asking them what was it that was making them so sad, he learnt that his death was fast approaching.
Not willing to die any time soon, Markandeya decided to perform a tapas. He retired into a deep forest, built a Shiva ling and started praying devotedly to Lord Shiva. He went into deep meditation and recited the MahaMrityunjay Mantra.
The destined day of Markandeya’s death came. Yama, the god of death came to take his praana(life). He threw his ‘Yamapasam’, a death noose used by Yama to snatch the soul out of the body, around Markandeya’sneck.
But Markandeya was not afraid and he immediately clung to the Shiva linga and cried out for Shiva. The Shiva linga burst open and Lord Shiva came out of it. Shiva was furious at Yama and declared that Markandeya was his beloved devotee and will live forever. Eventually Markandeya grew up and became a great rishi. He is the creator of the MarkandeyaPurana and he gave the world the ‘MahaMrityunjay Mantra’.
The word ‘Mrityu’ means death and ‘Jaya’ means victory. Mrityunjaymeans victory over death. It doesn’t refer to physical death rather it signifies the resurrection of the soul after a spiritual death. It is a call to Shiva so that he can lead the devotee towards eternal bliss. Thus by merging into Shiva one can attain eternal happiness, the true happiness. Another name of Shiva is Tryambakam the-three-eyed-one. The third eye located between Shiva’s eyebrows, signifies the power of his penance and meditation. While chanting this mantra and praying to Shiva the devotee attains spiritual knowledge which facilitates the opening of the third eye.
The end result is that the devotee is led towards spiritual liberation or moksha and can become free from the cycle of life and death.