There once lived a sage called as Mrikandu. He and his wife Marudvati were strong devotees of Lord Shiva.
They were very happy singing the songs of the Lord and spreading his stories everywhere. However the two of them had a regret. They did not have any children.
The sage and his wife decided to perform severe penances to win the favour of Lord Shiva. Finally pleased with their penances Lord Shiva appeared before them.
'Mrikandu, Marudvati, open your eyes!' said the three-eyed God.
Mrikandu and Marudvati opened their eyes and were stunned to see the handsome Lord Shiva before them.
'You have come...Lord!' Mrikandu whispered as both of them immediately fell on the Lord's feet unable to contain themselves.
Lord Shiva rejoiced on seeing the devotion in their eyes. He looked at them smiling, 'I am very pleased with your penance! I wish to grant you a boon. What do you desire, Mrikandu and Marudvati?'
Marudvati looked at the Lord with a smile in her face. 'Lord, all I want is a child...' She looked at her husband, who looked at her encouragingly, 'Lord...' she continued, 'I wish for a child who is blessed by you...'
Lord Shiva remained silent for a few minutes considering something. He then looked at the two of them, 'What sort of a child do you want?'
Mrikandu and Marudvati looked at each other confused. What sort of a question was that? They both turned and looked at the Lord waiting for him to explain.
Lord Shiva continued, 'What I meant was that, do you wish for a gifted child or a foolish child?'
Mrikandu and Marudvati still did not speak, their confusion increasing. What sort of a person would choose a foolish child. Realising that there was a catch somewhere, Mrikandu spoke slowly, 'I do not understand, my Lord.'
Lord Shiva said plainly. 'Do you wish for a gifted child with a short life span or a foolish child who would live a very long life?'
Mrikandu and Marudvati looked at each other with troubled eyes. They realised that this was some sort of a test for them and that they had to choose one of them. Marudvati looked at her husband and remembered how they had prayed for a child. She turned at looked at the Lord.
'Lord, I wish for a gifted child with a short life span.' She said looking straight at Lord Shiva. She then turned to her husband, who was looking at her alarmed. She nodded her head, 'It is ok. We will be be happy with him for as long as he is with us...After that, we will still have his memories...'
Mrikandu realised the truth in her words and also looked at Lord Shiva and nodded his head. The two of them then fell at Lord Shiva's feet. Lord Shiva then blessed them and without another word went back to his home in Kailash.
Marudvati then gave birth to a boy. They named the child Markandeya.
Markandeya was a very gifted child. He learnt all the Vedas and the scriptures very fast. He also loved his parents very much. Looking at them from his childhood, Markandeya also became a staunch devotee of Lord Shiva. He loved singing bhajans for Lord Shiva. He would lose himself singing and thinking about the Lord.
However being a very intelligent child, Markandeya sensed that his parents were unhappy about something. No matter how hard he tried, his parents remained unhappy. They seemed to put on a happy face when he was around, but deep inside he could sense their sorrow.
Finally the day before his sixteenth birthday, Markandeya talked to his parents, 'Father, why do you always look so sad? I mean...have I done something to make you so unhappy?'
Hearing these words Marudvati broke down crying, 'NO...No...How could you even think we are unhappy with you?'
Mrikandu said looking horrified that his son could think like that, 'We love you son. You have made us so proud...You are everything that a parent would want in their child...' Mrikandu said with a bitter sweet voice.
Markandeya looked at his parents silently waiting for them to continue. Mrikandu and Marudvati looked at each other each wanting the other to tell Markandeya. Finally Marudvati broke the silence.
'...It is...just..that...we got you as a boon from Lord Shiva...' Slowly Marudvati with the help of Mrikandu told the entire story to Markandeya.
Markandeya was a patient listener and did not interrupt until both his parents had finished. He felt sorry for his parents. They had loved and nourished him with a burden knowing that they were going to lose him...He looked at them proudly. They were the bravest people he knew.
Markandeya was not however bothered about himself. His parents had changed their destiny and had got him from the Lord. Changing destiny was nothing new to their family. He smiled. He looked at his parents lovingly.
'Father, Mother...Please do not be worried. I will pray to the Lord...' Markandeya said with steely determination. 'I am sure the Lord will not let anything happen to me...'
His parents could not help but feel optimistic when they heard the words of the boy. Mrikandu hugged his son and blessed him. 'Go on son! I am sure you will overcome... whatever comes in your way.'
Marudvati also blessed her son. Markandeya with the blessings of his parents immediately set out.
He came at the sea and felt peace seeping into him.
If I am to meet my end, I want it to be here...He thought and went to the sea shore and with the mud there, lovingly built a shiva linga there.
He sat down there and started his prayers. He sang bhajans for some time and later he was deep in meditation.
In Hindu mythology, Yama is the God of Death. He along with his soldiers collected the souls of the dead people.
Yama realised that Markandeya's time on earth was up. He sent his two servants to collect Markandeya's soul.
However by this time Markandeya was so deep in meditation that a strange fierce light emerged from him. The light from him was burning so bright that the servants of Yama could not go close to him. Try as they might, they could not approach him.
Facing failure for the first time, the servants returned crestfallen to their master.
'Master, we could not approach him. There was something coming from him. Something very bright....' The servants shook their head, 'It was so bright that it almost burnt us...'
Yama nodded, 'It is ok. I will take care of this..' Yama then picked up his noose and sat on his buffalo vehicle and came up near Markandeya. Yama realised that Markandeya was pure and had lived a good life. That was protecting him. That was what had driven out the servants.
But Yama was the God of Death. Good man or not, nobody escaped from him. However as Markandeya was a noble child, Yama made himself visible.
'Markandeya' Yama spoke deeply, 'Your time on earth is up...'
Markandeya opened his eyes and looked at Yama. However Markandeya did not get afraid. He looked at Yama in the eye. 'I will not go with you...My Lord will protect me...'
Yama repeated, 'Your time on earth is up. I have come to take you...'
Markandeya smiled shook his head and hugged the shiva linga tightly. Realising that he had no choice, Yama threw his noose around Markandeya's neck to pull out his soul. Unfortunately Yama's noose fell around both Markandeya and the linga. Markandeya closed his eyes tightly Save me my Lord...
Markandeya was surprised when he felt the linga move with his closed eyes. He opened his eyes with astonishment.
Markandeya was thrilled to see the three-eyed Lord before him. His wish had been fulfilled. He had seen Lord Shiva now...
Markandeya suddenly felt like as if he was inside a protective shield. Nothing could hurt him now...Markandeya looked at Yama and smiled... Not even death
However there was nothing calm about Shiva at that time. Every line of Shiva's face was fierce with anger. And Shiva's trident was raised and pointing at Yama, who had dropped the noose and backed away in fright.
'YOU DARE DISTURB HIM!' Lord Shiva yelled angrily, threatening to open his third eye.
'My Lord...' Yama said afraid, 'His time on earth is up. I have come...'
'HE WILL LIVE FOREVER!...HOW DARE YOU...' Shiva picked up his trident and pierced Yama. Yama tried dodging the trident, but Yama caught the weapon straight in his chest. He fell down dead. The Lord of the Dead was dead!
Immediately Lord Indra and the other Devas appeared before Lord Shiva, who was still looking at Yama angrily.
Lord Indra looked at peaceful face of Markandeya with astonishment. The boy had done what no one had done before.
Indra turned and bowed to Lord Shiva, 'Lord Shiva...We need to have a Lord of the Dead... Without death, there would be no balance on earth...People would continue to be born and never die. That is not the way of life. Life is not meant to be this way. Please Lord...Give Yama his life back. So that the balance of life can be restored...' Indra said pointing at the dead form of Yama.
Hearing to Indra's words, Lord Shiva was pacified. He nodded slowly, 'Yes...Yes...Yama shall have his life back...if...' Lord Shiva looked at Markandeya who was still looking at Lord Shiva as if he had found the biggest treasure on earth. Lord Shiva smiled at Markandeya, '..if Markandeya is spared...Markandeya will live forever. He will be the one who has conquered death...'
The Devas realised that this was a fair deal and accepted the condition.
Yama opened his eyes as the wound in his chest healed. Yama looked at Markandeya, smiled and disappeared from there. The other Devas also went back to the heavens.
Markandeya then fell at the feet of Lord Shiva, 'Lord I want nothing more, I have seen you...'
Lord Shiva smiled, 'Go back to your parents Markandeya. Look after them for their life. After that roam the earth and be peaceful doing whatever you wish. You have my blessings. You will remain sixteen years for all eternity. You will always have my blessings...'
Markandeya went back to his parents who were overjoyed on hearing his story. Markandeya was a good son and looked very well after his parents. He never aged more than sixteen....
The form which Lord Shiva's assumed to kill Yama is called as 'Kalasamhara Murti' ['Kala' is Death, 'Samhara' is ender, 'Murti' is idol]
In Hindu Mythology it is believed that Markandeya is still alive and roaming the earth and continues to do good to all. He is a chiranjeevi [one who lives for ever].