Indian Mythology (by ApamNapat)

Maarkandeya - Conqueror of Death


Once there was a Brahmana couple who were issueless for a very long time. They practiced severe austerities and penances directed towards Lord Shiva. At last the Lord appeared before them and asked them to state their desire. The asked for a son to give purpose to their lives. Shiva offered them two choices, a son who would be wealthy, powerful and long lived, but of ill character, or a son who would be virtuous, but who will die when he turns sixteen. The Brahmana asked for a son who would be virtuous. The Lord granted the boon and disappeared.

In due course of time, a male child was born to this couple. They named him Maarkandeya. Maarkandeya showed early signs of spirituality. He was always interested in the worship of Lord Shiva and demonstrated an awesome mastery of difficult philosophical constructs at a very early age. Years flew by and the day on which he would turn 16 and die approached.

At last the Brahmana decided to tell the truth to his son and told him about the boon of Shiva and his preordained death on his sixteenth birthday. He advised Maarkandeya to spend the reminder of his time in worshiping the Lord. Accordingly, Maarkandeya commenced a puja (prayers, worship) to Lord Shiva in front of a Shiva-Linga (a representation of Shiva).

Yama arrived on the spot the moment the boy turned eighteen. Due to his constant devotion, Maarkandeya was able to spot the lord of death immediately. He embraced the Shiva Linga and continued his puja. Now Yama was in a quandary. He typically takes a soul to the abode of death by lassoing it with his Pasha (noose). But there was no way now to cast the noose around Maarkandeya without including the Shiva-Linga. However, his duty was clear, the time appointed for Maarkandeya's death had arrived and so he lassoed both the boy and the Linga in one go. He tried to drag both of them away, but was not able to budge the Shiva-Linga.

Lo and behold! Shiva appeared in person when his Linga was being pulled. He stopped the fool hardy attempt of Yama. Yama remonstrated that he was only doing his duty as the lifetime of the boy was up. Upon which, Shiva granted the boon of eternal youth the boy, who would always be on his sixteenth birthday. This way, Maarkandeya became immortal. [See Satyavan for another occasion on which Yama fails to collect the soul of a man whose time was fated to end.]

As one of the eternal sages, he appears in many stories in the Mahabharata and other minor works.

Last Modified At: Mon Dec 19 08:18:04 2005