Markandeya is an ancient rishi from the Hindu tradition, born in the clan of Bhrigu Rishi. He is celebrated as a devotee of both Shiva and Vishnu. It is said that Shiva protected Markandeya from the clutches of death and is believed to have happened in Thirukkadavoor in Tamilnadu.
Mrigendu was a hermit and Marudavati was his wife. Mrigendu was in his thirties and Marduvati, with a pretty face, big eyes and long black hair, was a few years younger to him. They lived in an ashram and lived a life of simplicity, spirituality and service. They were happy and knew no want. Then suddenly, one day, they felt a want. "What is the empty feeling I have?"asked Marudavati, while placing a glass of butter milk near her husband. "I have everything and yet I feel I have nothing." "What could it be indeed!" agreed Mrigendu, "I am not able to place it either." He drank the buttermilk and wiped his face with his towel. At that moment, the cowherd Gopa brought home their cow and calf after grazing them. The calf pranced and jumped about playfully, sometimes nudging his mother. "A child!" exclaimed Maridavati, "that is what is missing in our lives. "You are right, Maru," agreed Mrigendu. "Life is never complete without a child - a progeny," he said. From that day onwards they could think of nothing but a child. Pious as they were, both were devotees of Lord Shiva. They prayed at his temple morning and evening. They offered hot food to the poor and the pilgrims who came to worship there. After a year or so, Lord Shiva appeared in their dreams one night. Strangely, they had identical dreams. "I am pleased at your devotion, What do you want?" Lord Shiva asked. "A child, O Lord," they chorused. "All we want is a child."
At fourteen, he was the icon of the village. Any problem that the villagers faced, it was to Markandeya that they turned to for a solution. "Ask Markandeya," was the regular refrain. Marudavati and Mrigendu were very happy with the popularity that their son enjoyed and thanked Lord Shiva in their prayers everyday. By the time Markandeya reached the age of fifteen, his popularity became so immense that his parents had almost forgotten what was to follow within a year. They reveled in the thought that such a wonderful boy was their own son. How lucky they were! "Ma, next year my studies will be completed," announced Markandeya entering the house one day. "When I am sixteen, I would like to go to other places and learn more about the world." 'Oh my! Thought Maduravati. Sixteen… yes, there is just a year left!' She ran to her husband with tears in her eyes. "Do you remember?" she asked her husband in a hushed tone. "Markandeya will be sixteen in a year." Mrigendu looked up at her calmly. "Yes," he answered, "It is all I have been thinking about for some time." "What shall we do?" Marudavati cried inconsolably. "How can we live after that?' Just then they heard Markandeya's voice outside, "Hush..hush…" Mrigendu cautioned his wife, "you don't want our son to hear." Marudavati dried her tears quickly.
"You are not greater than Shiva the Eternal, you powerful Lord of death, you have to wait." So saying Markandeya embraced the idol of Lord Shiva in the temple. "Is that so?" Yama sniggered and threw his rope around the idol, trying to pull both together towards him. That is when Shiva appeared in person. "Don't Yama," ordered the Lord, "Stop it and leave now. From this day, I grant Markandeya a boon. He will not be touched by death ever and will live eternally as a sixteen year old." Yama was confident of his power that he let it go to his head. "Shiva or no Shiva, Markandeya will go with me," so saying he pulled with all his might. Shiva was very angry. "Stop Yama, you have exceeded your power. How dare you touch me?" Realizing his mistake, Yama immediately fell at his feet, "Forgive me, Lord," but it is you who had given me this power to me, my Lord," he said, "and Markandeya's time on earth is over." "You forgot one thing that I said, Yama, "Lord Shiva was still angry. "I had said that you have to obey my orders but you dared to defy me," he continued. "Go away, Markandeya will live forever." His parents were very happy and offered prayers at the temple.
When people saw that Markandeya had escaped death, they begged Lord Shiva to annihilate death so that they could live forever. Shiva was taken aback, but after some thought, agreed with a smile. Soon, the world was filled with misery, old age, disease and over population. It created untold problems and tensions. Finally one day all of them started praying. They prayed and prayed. "What is your problem now?" asked Shiva, appearing before them with false irritation. "You never seem to be happy." "Forgive us Lord. There are probems and problems. We have so many of them. Please send death to fetch back us." The Lord said with a smile, "So be it." Death of course couldn't touch Markandeya as Lord Shiva, had blessed him with eternity. Therefore, they say, he still continues to live as a young, sixteen year old in the eternal being.