There’s an old adage about death and taxes being the only two certainties in life. Now, taxation is a function of government – death is a function of biology…but various cultures have posited that death can be cheated as easily as the tax agent. Enter exhibit A: Markendaya.
Markendaya’s father was a what was known, in India, as a Rishi – one part meditative sage, another part practicing magician. When he realized that he and his wife couldn’t conceive, he turned to the magical aspects of his craft, and invoked the Hindu God Shiva.
Shiva was willing to comply – but there was choice to be made:
The child would either be brilliant, but die at the young age of sixteen, or he/she could be dull and live out a long – but rather boring – existence.
Markendaya’s dad made a decision: after all, the candle that burns bright burns twice as fast. Better a short, brilliant life than a dull, drawn out state of being.
And so he prayed, and so it came to pass…
Markendaya entered the world a genius, albeit one who was doomed to die young…
The idea of being immortal has entered our common mythology. Characters like the Highlander and Doctor Who have highlighted one critical point: how much loss can an immortal take?
It’s built into the theme: the longer you live, the more you’re bound to loose: you might live forever, but no one you love will. Your friends, your family, all of them will burn in the flames of time.
That, of course, wasn’t supposed to be Markendaya’s fate. He was slated for death.
And Yama, the Hindu God of the Underworld, was waiting in the wings…
In Christian traditions, Death is malevolent.
The Grim Reaper will find you, no matter where you go.
Yama, on the other hand, isn’t a force of evil, so much as a force of nature.
But he still comes for everyone, in the end.
For Markendaya, this would be on his sixteenth birthday.
In Hindu traditions, Shiva is often worshiped by an iconic -technically an aniconic – symbol known as the Linga.
This is a black, rounded stone. Many scholars consider this to be a phallic symbol, and indeed, it serves that function in certain Tantric practices.
However, this isn’t on the mind of many – if not most – practitioners, who see it as an expression of Shiva.
It was this object of faith that Markendaya clung to, day in, day out.
Maybe even obsessively.
But he prayed, and apparently, Shiva heard him.
Yama sent his minions to get the boy, but one by one, they failed.
Apparently, Markendaya’s prayers kept them at bay.
And so, finally, Yama, the Lord of Death, decided to do the dirty work himself.
Yama paid Markendaya a visit.
Markendaya was nonplussed by Yama’s arrival.
He kept chanting prayers to Shiva.
He wasn’t afraid of Death.
Here’s a secret – if you want to really piss of Death, don’t be afraid.
Markendaya was definitely not afraid.
Yama has two definitive symbolic associations:
1) He rides a water buffalo
2) He carries a noose.
Yama attempted to lasso the boy.
However, he missed his Mark…endaya (bad pun, yes I know).
Instead of landing on Markendaya, it landed on the stone Linga, the symbol of Shiva.
Yama had already started pulling on his lasso; the Linga went crashing to the floor.
Bad move on Death’s part…
From the wreckage of the shattered stones, Shiva emerged.
He sent Yama home for good, at least for Markendaya.
Markendaya had been given the boon of immortality….
So where can the story go from there?
Straight to the end…
At the end of the universe, Markendaya found himself very alone.
Everyone had passed on. So had the worlds.
Everything was a grey abyss.
Quantum soup, as the universe spins out into entropy.
Heat death, in the final gasps of creation. As he wandered through this fog, he came across something that shocked him.
In front of him was a child. A giggling, happy baby boy, floating on a leaf.
“Who are you?” asked our intrepid, immortal hero.
“You don’t recognize me? I’m Time and Death.”
The boy laughed some more, and opened his mouth.
How wide did he open his mouth?
Wide enough to swallow worlds.
Wide enough to swallow Markendaya as well.
There are a handful of cross-over tales in Hindu mythology, stories where Shiva and Vishnu feature prominently.
There’s a common misconception in the West that there is a Hindu trinity: Brahma creates, Vishnu protects, and Shiva destroys.
The truth is that Vishnu has his exclusive following, as does Shiva.
Nobody really cares about Brahma, which is sad.
But while Shiva’s already made his appearance in this story, having given Markendaya eternal life, it’s time for Vishnu to enter the narrative.
You might recall that last time he appeared as Death, Destroyer of Worlds – that would be in the end-piece of the Bhagavad Gita.
This time, he’s a laughing baby…named:
Time and Death.
And Markendaya is now in his belly.
The idea of being devoured as a path of spiritual transformation exists through out many, if not most, cultures.
There is something to be said for traversing through the belly of the beast…
Think Jonah and the Whale, as just one example.
So what did Markendaya find inside Vishnu?
Everything. Everyone. Everywhere.
So what do you do when you’re being overwhelmed by the sheer vastness of all of existence?
Today, you might call an ambulance.
Alas for poor Markendaya, there weren’t any of those left.
He was at the end of space-time, inside Vishnu’s stomach, tripping through the cosmos.
So he did the only thing he could rationally think of:
He got down on his knees and prayed.
Vishnu, the child, spat him back up into the cosmos,
One that was brand new…
and left him with only one thought to remember…
Time and Death.
And that’s the takeaway.
Time and Death – even the immortals have to play by those rules.
Who wants to live forever?