Shankha-kshetra Panchatirtha: Markandeya Tank

BY: SUN STAFF - 20.11 2020

Markandeya's Vision of Krsna
Juna Mahal, Dungarpur

A seventeen-part series on Sri Jagannath Puri Dham - Shankha-kshetra: The Holy Dham at Puri Jagannatha's five sacred bathing places.

The Markandeya tirtha is located in the sixth fold of Shankha-kshetra. Markanda Tank, the ancient hermitage and the temple of Markandeshwar Shiva reside here together at Puri Dham. Lord Shiva Markandeshwar was worshipped by the sage Markandeya, who also witnessed Lord Krsna as an infant lying on a banyan leaf sucking His toe, floating in the cosmic ocean.

Markandeya Tank, one of the five Panchatirthas in Puri Dham, is located on the southwestern side of Jagannatha Temple, at the spot where Lord Vishnu once rested in the form of a tree. A temple dedicated to Vishnu's pastime lies buried in the sand here. The sage Markandeya is also said to have meditated at this place after the Lord saved him from drowning in the sea. The Sage performed a yagna here, and also built a temple.

Sri Madana-mohan, Lord Jagannatha's utsava murti, enacts His Kaliya-mardana-lila in this holy Markandeya Tank. Bathing first in the Markandeya sarovara, then taking darsana of the Markandesvara Mahadeva Shivalinga in the adjacent temple, is said to result in pious credits equal to performing both rajasuya and asvamedha yajnas.

Among the four asramas situated in the sixth fold of Shankha-kshetra, Markandeya asrama resides in the north, with Bhrigu (Parasara) in the south, Pandu in the west, and Angirs in the east. These four asramas are connected with certain religious rites at the Jagannath Temple.

The ancient Markandeswar Shiva Temple in the sixth fold is right beside the tank. Pilgrims coming to the site can approach on the right side of Markandeswar Road, leading from Markandeswar chowk to the Puri-Brahmagiri road.

The Markandeya tank is an open structure, protected by a stone wall with bathing ghats on the south side of the tank. Both the bathing tank and the Markandeswar Temple date back to the 12th century A.D.

The presiding deity in Markandeswar Temple is Shivalinga, called Markandesvara Mahadeva, who is praised with the following pranama mantra:

trilocana namas te 'stu, nomas te sasi-bhusana trahi mam tvarh virupaksa, mahadeva namo stu te

"I offer my respects to the one with three eyes who is ornamented by the moon. Please always protect me, O Lord with fearsome eyes. O Mahadeva, I offer my respects unto you."

Markandesvara Mahadeva is one of Shankha-kshetra's Panca-Mahadevas. In Puri Dham, the temple is connected with the rituals of Lord Jagannath's Chandan Yatra, Balabhadra Janma, Ashram Bije, Sital Sasthi, and Kaliyadalan, among others. There is also a murti of Markandeya Rsi in the temple.

Until February of this year, for many years there had been seven stone murtis located on the northern side of Markandeya Tank, each one about four feet in height. These seven mothers, or Sapta Matrukas, were accompanied by Lord Ganesh and Lord Virabhadra. Puri temple administrators have now built a new temple for the Sapta Matrukas, photos of whom can be seen here.

The seven mothers, who are worshipped by local Shakti devotees, are: Varahi, Indrani, Vaishnavi, Kaumari, Sivani, Brahmi and Chamunda. Similar images of the Sapta Matrukas are found at Jajpur, Belkhandi (in Kalahandi district), Salanpur (Jagatsinghpur, Cuttack district) and in the Parasuramesvara, Vaitala and Muktesvar temples of Bhubaneswar. The seven mothers at Markandeya Tank, like those in Jaipur, are holding babies in their arms.

There are also a few ancient epigraphs found on the steps of the tank and at the Markandeshwar Temple, which date back to the Ganga Dynasty. Sri Ramanujacarya visited Puri Dham in the years 1107 and 1117. Later Vishnuswami also came here, and established the Vishnuswami Matha near Markandeya Tank.

Markandeya Tank

Markandeya Rsi and Purusottama Shankha-kshetra

The story of Sri Markandeya Tirtha at Puri Dham is mentioned in the Skanda Purana:

"At the end of Brahma's day, all the residents of earth perish in the waters of devastation (pralaya). Markandeya alone survives because he was blessed to live for seven days of Lord Brahma. During one annihilation, however, Markandeya was floating in the deluge looking for shelter. Suddenly he saw an island with a banyan tree. To his great surprise, Markandeya observed in that tree an effulgent sapphire blue baby lying on a leaf playfully sucking His toe.

When Markandeya approached that captivating child to learn his identity, the baby inhaled and forcefully drew the sage into His body. Within that baby's belly, he saw the fourteen planetary systems and all the ruling demigods. Markandeya traveled toward the end of creation but failed to reach it. As Markandeya marveled at the unprecedented display, the baby exhaled and out came the muni. Now Markandeya realized that the infant was none other than the Supreme Lord Gopala, his worshipable beloved.

Markandeya asked the Lord, "Why is this particular tract of land unaffected by the cosmic pralaya? Lord Gopala replied, "This is My transcendental abode called Purusottama-ksetra (Jagannatha Puri). It is completely beyond the influence of material creation or destruction. Residents of this place experience eternal joy and never take rebirth." After hearing this astonishing fact, Markandeya stayed here in Puri meditating upon his Lord Hari."