Sage Mrikandu and his wife Marutavati was a childless couple. In order to sire a son, the sage went on severe penance. So pleased was Lord Shiva with his devotion that he appeared in front of Mrikandu to ask what he wanted. Mrikandu begged, ?Lord, I am childless since long. I would be grateful if you would grant my wife a son.?
Lord Shiva replied, ?Your wish will be granted. But there is a condition. You have to decide whether you want a wise son who will live up to sixteen years only, or a dumb son with a long life??
The sage thought over it for a moment before saying, ?All I want is a son of whom I shall be proud.?
Lord Shiva granted the sage the boon he desired.
After nine months, the sage'swife gave birth to a son whom they named Markandaya. He grew up into a very bright and obedient boy. He soon learned the Vedas and the Shastras. But as each day passed, his parents? worries grew as they feared that as soon as he completed sixteen years of age, he would die.
One day, the boy asked his parents the cause of their worry. Initially they hedged but his persistence forced them to blurt out the story of the boon Lord Shiva had granted.
When Markandaya crossed fifteen years of age, he approached his parents to seek their permission to go on penance to win over Lord Shiva. His parents agreed though reluctantly in the hope that he may be able to please Lord Shiva.
So Markandaya left for the forest and began meditating in front of a Shiva linga. While he continued with his meditation, time flew and on the appointed day of his sixteenth year, Lord Yama, the God of Death, appeared to take him away from earth. Markandaya in desperation embraced the Shiva linga. At once the linga split apart and Lord Shiva appeared from it with his trishul (strident) in hand. In one mighty blow, Lord Shiva killed the God of Death with his trishul. Turning to Markandaya, Lord Shiva said, ?I am pleased with your devotion. As such I grant you the boon that you remain sixteen-years old forever and never grow old.?
Meanwhile, the gods came from heaven to plead for restoring Lord Yama to life as ?life and death have to go hand in hand, one after another.?
Lord Shiva agreed to restore Lord Yama to life while Markandaya became the symbol of eternity.