Story of Markandeya
Mrikandu was a great rishi. Marudvati was his wife. For a long time they had no children. The rishi prayed to God Shiva. God Shiva appeared to him, and said, “I am pleased with you, Mrikandu. Do you want a hundred foolish sons, who will live for a long time? Or, do you want only one very intelligent son, who will live for only sixteen years?” The rishi at once said, “God, give me the intelligent son.” God Shiva said, “Good! You shall have him.”
Soon the rishi got a son. He named him Markandeya. The boy grew to be very intelligent and handsome. He learnt the Vedas and Shastras. As the boy was growing, Rishi was becoming more sad. One day Markandeya asked his father: “Father, why do you look so sad?” The rishi said, “Son! What shall I say? When God Shiva gave you to me, he said you would live only sixteen years. You are now about to reach that age.”
Markandeya said, “Father! Is that the reason you are sad? God Shiva is very kind to His devotees. He has saved many from death before. I have read about it in the Puranas. I shall therefore worship Him day and night. I am sure, He will save me too!“ Rishi Mrikandu saw some signs of hope. He blessed his son.
Markandeya built a Shiva-Linga at a spot on the sea-shore. He started worshipping Shiva morning, noon and night. He sang bhajans and often danced in joy. On the last day, he was about to sing bhajan, Yama, the God of Death, appeared. He was riding on a buffalo. He held a noose in his hand and said to Markandeya, “Stop your bhajan! you boy! Your life in this world is over. Be ready to die.” Markandeya was not afraid. He clung to the Shiva- Linga as one clings to one’s mother. Yama threw his noose round the boy’s neck and pulled him along with the Shiva-Linga. Suddenly, the Shiva-Linga burst and God Shiva came out of it. He said, “Yama, go away! Don’t touch this boy. He is my beloved devotee. He will live forever!”
Yama went away crest-fallen. Markandeya came home and touched his parents’ feet. They embraced him, and wept with joy. He then prayed to God Shiva more fervently than ever. He became a great rishi, and lived very long.