The story of Markandeya opens doors to a vast spiritual heritage with the mysterious figure of Shiva at its core. Shiva is dual-natured. He guards the universal order with ferocious resolve, destroying attachments and freeing his devotees from ignorance. He is the inner controller and the dissolver, bringing compulsive pursuits of passion, and even life itself, to its natural end. This aspect of Shiva is reflected in his ancient name Rudra, “one who howls.” The more familiar name Shiva, on the other hand, means “auspicious, gracious, or kind.” Here compas-sion is Shiva’s nature. He is a shelter of kindness and the giver of boons. With tenderness and a sure hand, he guides those who aspire to self-realization and he relieves the suffering that exists in the universe.
Shiva personifies pure consciousness. He manifests the universe and exists in it like a net into which every particle and being is woven. Yet he remains unaffected by the world’s charms and temptations as he silently holds all that moves in an unmoving presence. He is the Lord of Yogis, established in meditation.
He has many names. To Markandeya he is Mrityunjaya, the Death Conqueror. And some say it is this aspect of Shiva’s being that Markandeya was worshipping on his sixteenth birthday. But Shiva’s conquest over Yama does not give us the complete picture of Mrityunjaya, for even in his aspect as the ruler of death, Shiva is deeply nurturing as well as fearsome.