A Mantra for Peace and Prosperity: For centuries, yogis, healers, and householders alike have turned to this mantra for comfort, clarity, and courage on the path to joyful living. Now you can, too.

Hailed by the sages as the heart of the Vedas, the maha mrityunjaya mantra will help you tune into the healing force that is always at work within you, supporting your growth, lifting you up in times of trouble, and reminding you of the higher aim of life.

The scriptures of ancient India are filled with stories, myths, and legends in which philosophy is entwined with devotion. Great personages appear in these tales, among them the sage Markandeya, whose teachings are found in the Markandeya Purana. His text is remembered especially for its account of the glory of the Divine Mother. Markandeya is also acclaimed for his vision of the cosmic deluge, and in the Mahabharata he is an honored guest at the forest encampment of the heroic Pandava brothers. But his story begins before his birth.

Childless, the forest-dwelling sage Mrikandu and his wife, Marudvati, undertook a long penance, hoping to earn merit and the boon of a child. They were rewarded with a vision of Lord Shiva, their ishtadevata (the deity of their hearts). After hearing their request, Lord Shiva told them they could either parent a child who would be a brilliant spiritual light but whose life would be a scant sixteen years, or they could raise a long-lived child who would be witless and self-absorbed.

They chose the child with spiritual virtue, and in time Marudvati gave birth to a boy they named Markandeya. The couple decided not to tell him that he would have a short life span, but as he approached his sixteenth birthday his parents’ growing sadness betrayed them. And when he asked them to explain their downcast mood, they told him what Lord Shiva had said. Already an accomplished yogi, Markandeya rededicated himself to his practice.

On the day of his sixteenth birthday Markandeya took refuge in a temple and sat next to a shiva lingam (a symbol of divine consciousness) to do his worship and meditation. When the messengers of Lord Yama, the lord of death, arrived to take him away, they found him so absorbed in his prayers, they could not complete their mission.

Returning to Yama, they described their dilemma. So Yama himself travelled to the temple to accomplish the task. He urged Markandeya to follow the natural laws of life and death, and to come willingly, but Markandeya wrapped his arms around the shiva lingam and surrendered himself to its protection. Yama threw his noose to gather Markandeya in, but the noose encircled the lingam as well, and immediately, Shiva, dwelling in the image, split the lingam open and emerged in a rage. Yama had thrown his noose too far, for he had no authority to encircle Shiva himself. Yama was killed with a blow from Shiva’s foot as the other gods looked on in dismay. Fearing that Yama’s death would upset the order of the universe, they implored Shiva to bring him back to life—and in the end, Shiva complied. But he pointed out that Markandeya’s devotion had protected him, and he was therefore blessed to remain a sixteen-year-old sage eternally. The ancient belief is that the realized soul of Markandeya is still moving in the universe.