Saint Mrukandu had no sons. Mrukandu decided to do penance on Lord Brahma seeking a son. After several hundred years of rigorous meditation the Lord appeared before the saint and said:“Saint Mrukandu, I am highly satisfied and pleased with your meditation. Please ask any boon you like to have from me.”“I want a son, my Lord.”“What kind of a son?” asked the creator, “An inane son who lives long or a bright son who would die when he completes sixteen?” The saint thought for a while.A senseless and dull son is a curse. Not to mention if he has a very long life. He asked: “Let me have a bright son, Lord, even if he dies at sixteen.”“So be it.” Thus blessing him, the lord disappeared.
Eventually Mrukandu’s wife became pregnant. As the pregnancy was complete, she gave birth to a very handsome, intelligent and resplendent boy. Markandeya, the son of saint Mrukandu, grew up very well. His childhood pranks, unsteady walks with infirm legs, his smiles showing the little sprouting teeth – all captivated the hearts and minds of the onlookers, one and all. As a boy growing steadily, transcendental knowledge in him also grew. The saint noticed that he had an extra sense and wit inbuilt in him. He never hurt an ant or flies knowingly or otherwise.
He always discouraged mischief among his companions. The questions, natural to a growing boy, were something amazing and unnatural for his age. “Thatha (father)”, he asked one day, “why does the Sun rise in the east and set in the west every day?”“That is the world order, my son.” Then he asked “why do people suffer? Why do they torment and pine away with grief? And why do they undergo various ordeals?”“That is because of their Karma, my lad.” His next question was “They say God created us and made us act, and we don’t act of our own will. Why then should we undergo the results of Karma? ”Saint Mrukandu could not answer the question easily.
In the night, when Markandeya used to go to sleep, the parents discussed about his initiation. To the father’s surprise, Markandeya learned each syllable and verse by heart at a single mention. Knowledge from all sides flew up and accumulated in him like birds from different destinations to a sylvan pool.
One day Markandeya was playing with a few friends from the neighbourhood in the meadow. A beautiful stork with long yellow legs, white wings and feathers and yellow beaks flew down and perched on a tree nearby. Nishitha, his friend and neighbour took a stone and pelted it ignoring the warning of Markendeya even before he could prevent the cruelty. The stone hit hard at one leg of the poor creature and it fell down. It was struggling to get to its legs but could not. This pathetic sight moved the saintly boy very much. He ran out and recovered the bird in both his hands. Nishitha came running after him and demanded the bird.
“Give me my bird”, demanded he.
“No, I shall not”, replied Markandeya “As you ventured to kill it, it does not belong to you anymore.”“I have thrown the stone with which the bird fell down.” Nishitha tried to justify his action.“Had it been dead, what would you do? You have no right to kill or hurt any creation of God.”The scene would have turned violent had Nishitha’s father not reached the spot. He enquired of the reason for the dispute. The other boys told him what had happened. “What Markandeya says” said the father is absolute truth. “No one has the right to hurt, let alone kill, another creature.”Markandeya then collected some medicinal herbs, extracted their juices and applied them over the wound of the bird. He gathered a small piece of linen and covered the wound. The boy also brought water and fed it. After some time the bird found relief and it flew away. Markandeya with love, empathy and torture of separation looked at it.
KK Shanmukhan (The writer can be contacted at [email protected]) ( To be concluded )