As Markandeya grew gradually, he noticed the shadows of grief on his father and mother’s face. The father’s grief was covert and mother’s was overt. He constantly enquired of the reason for the worry. But both of them evaded the question and were reluctant to answer. Markandeya’s fame as a profound scholar at a very tender age, his compassion towards others and his selfless service oriented approach to all, spread all around. Many great yogis, saints and priests used to visit. They liked to enter into discourse with him and grasp more knowledge on themes that were like nuts hard to crack. All of them returned satisfied and with gratitude.
Mrukandu and his wife suffered grave mental agonies. They were immensely happy with the nobility and respect their son had earned from all sides. Their hearts broke as he was nearing the sixteenth year of his age.
Finally that particular day dawned. It was Markandeya’s sixteenth birthday. His father went to the river bank and conducted his puja there. Mother too got up early and prepared a very delicious food. A new pair of clothes were gifted to him. Markandeya, clad in the new dress, sat before the plantain leaf spread before him behind the lit oil lamp.
His mother started serving the white rice. Before the white rice, there fell the white tears from her eyes on the centre of the leaf. Markandeya stared at her face and compelled her to give the reason for her sobbing. With his persistent and petulant question, she replied:“My dear son, my pet, my lad, how can I tell you that? We had no sons for long years and your illustrious father meditated on Lord Brahma for thousands of years. That is how we received you as a precious boon from Lord Bhrahma. Now when you eat the first handful of this rice, you will die. Your life has to end today. And lo and behold, Lord Yama, the God of Death has arrived and is waiting on the back of his buffalo, his chariot on the south, to
snatch you from us. This has been tormenting…”
Before she could finish the last sentence she fell into unconsciousness. Markandeya dropped the food he took in hand and got up. He ran towards the Lord Shiva’s Temple in the east. Lord Yama shouted at him.“Markandeya, dear boy, stop. Nobody can escape death. Any living being including gods and demi-gods must die one day or the other. Your life ended now. Since you are a precious gift of God, I have come myself to take you. Otherwise I would have sent some one else. Stop there, Markandeya…”
Yama followed him swinging his hooked death wire in his right hand.
By this time Markandeya had entered the temple and opened the sanctum sanctorum. Yama reached there. He flung his hook on the boy who by now hugged the Shiva Lingam, the statue of the Supreme Lord, with extreme devotion.
Yama’s hook of death wire fell wrapped around the Shiva Lingam and the neck of the boy. He pulled it. It did not move. He pulled again. It did not move. He pulled with all his might. Slowly the idol began to shake. It shook violently as Yama applied his full force.
The Shiva Lingam crumbled. Yama’s eyes became almost blind in the radiance of Lord Shiva, who appeared from the spot of the idol. he cosmic creator, the embodiment of mercy and empathy, darted his spear against Yama to protect his devotee.
Yama, the God of Death, fell dead. He blessed Markandeya thus: “My child, you will be Chiranjivi, the one who will live up to the deluge. You will be known as Mruthyunjaya, the one who overcame death.” The Lord vanished. The boy returned home happily. The happiness and ecstatic love of the parents and that of the neighbours was inexplicable. All of them, in total cheer, chanted Om Namah Shivaya.
KK Shanmukhan (The writer can be contacted at [email protected])
( To be concluded )