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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.

Long ago, mortals never knew what death was. They used to roam around space and never died. That was when they saw the beautiful planet, Earth. They liked it so much that they visited it frequently. Soon they started staying back and did not want to return. This resulted in the Earth becoming so heavily populated that it sent Lord Shiva into a tizzy. 'I must think of some way to keep the population under check,' he said to himself. He thought and thought and then came upon a wonderful idea. "Yes", he announced in glee, "I shall introduce Death." Yama was put in charge of this department. After a few days he came back to Lord Shiva with a proper blue print. "I shall take Chitragupta my assistant, my Lord," he said, "he will maintain a register." "What will he write in the register?" querried Shiva. "When a mortal is created, Sir," explained yama, the year, day and the time of his death will be noted in the great book of records and followed." Yama waited for the approval of his master. "Will you be able to carry out this responsibility? You will obey only my orders in this regard." "Certainly, my Lord," vowed Yama with respect, "I shall take orders only from you."

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."

Shiva thought for some time, then he asked once again, "You have to make your choice," he announced. "Would you like just one child, an epitome of all the virtues , affectionate towards his parents, but with a life span of only sixteen years…? Shiva waited for the meaning to sink in before he continued, "Or," he beagn, "a hundred children, rough and rude as they come, but with life span of hundred each." "A hundred children!" They almost agreed but once again they thought over the words…but rogues? No, No, No……….. One noble child, affectionate, virtuous…yes…but with a life span of only sixteen years. No, No, no. They shook their heads. It was a very difficult choice to make. "Give me an answer quickly. Think. Will be back tomorrow," said Lord Shiva and vanished. The next morning when they got up, they discussed their dreams excitedly. So Mrigendu and Marudavati thought and thought and thought. How can one make a choice? Will any mother say, 'Let my child die after sixteen years' or will a father say, 'I will have one hundred ruffians for children all living for as long as a hundred years?' "No," they came out of their thoughts together. "An epitome of all virtues, even if the joy lasts only for sixteen years," said Marudavati, quite sure of her choice, and her husband nodded in agreement. That night when Shiva appeared in their dreams, they had their answer ready. After a year a son was born to them. They named him Markandeya. Handsome and healthy, Markandeya had an expression of tranquility and peace. The parents showered all their love and care on him and enjoyed all his pranks and baby talk. Life was bliss! The village people too loved and adored Markandeya for his pleasant nature. When he was seven years old, his Yajnopavida ceremony was conducted. He was appreciated and was liked by all the village folks.

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.

Days passed, Marudavati and Mrigendu were deeply disturbed. They talked less, ate less and slept less. "What's wrong with you two?" asked Markandeya one day. "Both of you have changed. Is something worrying you? Surely you can tell me, your son." "It's nothing, son" answered both at the same time while exchanging cautious looks. "No I will not have it," Markandeya was insistent. "I know there is something wrong. I must know it." So they told him about his impending death and their promise to Lord Shiva. "There is just a year left." They cried inconsolably. "A year is a long time," consoled Markandeya, looking at his parents calmly, "I will find a solution to this problem." It was evident to Markandeya that people were afraid of death. They were not yet ready to accept it as inevitable. He must find an answer for them. He must give them confidence and hope. Until then, he must not die. With this goal in mind, Markandeya left his home, friends and village and went to a Shiva temple in the forest. He performed the customary prayers and started contemplating and meditating to find a solution. With intense contemplation, peace and strength descended on Markandeya's mind and through it on his face. "The time has come," announced Yama, the Lord of Death, "to bring Markandeya's life back to me. That will stop his contemplation." His men returned just as fast they went. They were unable to penetrate the power surrounding him. Yama then decided to go himself. Nearing the temple, he called from outside. "Come, Markandeya your time on earth is over." "Wait, Yama, I am at prayer," answered Markandeya calmly. "Wait?" Yama sounded incredulous, "Yama waits for no one."

"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.