Sage Mukund'sson was named Markandeya, who took up the vow of celibacy. He led the true life of a brahmachari, reciting Narayana'sname. Such was his devotion that he left his home to do penance in the woods so that he would not be enticed by worldly pleasures.
His austere life and penance gave a fright to Lord Indra who began to fear that Markandeya would soon become more powerful and close to Narayana than he was. He instructed apsaras (heavenly nymphs) and Kamadeva to disrupt Markandeya'smeditation but all his efforts proved futile.
On seeing his devotion, Narayana appeared before Markandeya and asked, ?What do you want from me??
Markandeya replied that he wanted to see the Lord'smaya (world of illusion).
?So be it,? replied Narayana and disappeared.
Markandeya returned to the ashram and began to lead a sattvic (pure) life. One day he noticed the weather change all at once. Strong winds began to blow, followed by a thunder shower. It rained incessantly for a week with the result that the water level of the river flowing close to his ashram rose dangerously. Soon there was water everywhere and a few tree-tops only could be seen. To save himself, Markandeya climbed up a banyan tree and as he sat lost in thought, he heard a bay'scries.
He looked all around and saw a baby on a branch of the tree on which he sat. He stretched forward to pick up the child but found himself being sucked into a dark tunnel. Suddenly he noticed that he was on the ground?all was bright and sunny around him. The rain had stopped and things were normal everywhere.
Again the wind began to blow and Markandeya found himself on the same branch of the same tree. He looked up at the sky and noticed Lord Shiva and Parvati riding the bull Nandi. As he bent his head low to pay his respects, Lord Shiva said to him, ?You have seen the maya of the world as you had wanted to do. The baby was Lord Vishnu who is an incarnation of Narayana only.?
Markandeya asked, ?How many forms does Narayana have then??
Lord Shiva told him, ?Narayana is also known as the Trimurti. Brahma is the creator of the universe. Lord Vishnu is the protector and Mahesh, that is I, is the destroyer. I harm only those who commit sins and not those who are pure. So, now you know the three incarnations of Narayana and furthermore, if you pray to one, your prayers will reach all the three.? Saying this, Lord Shiva and Parvati left for Mount Kailash, while Markandeya returned to the ashram to meditate on Narayana.