The story: Markandeya, the figure in the middle, is the son of Mrikanda Rishi and his wife, Mardumati. Markandeya was destined to die when he turned sixteen. On that day, continuing his devotion to Lord Shiva he went to worship Lord Shiva, shown here in the aniconic form as the Linga.
At the appointed time Yama’s, the Lord of Death, assistants came to take away Markandeya and they could not as he was worshipping the Linga. Then Yama himself, the figure on our left, came to take away Markandeya and thew his lasso to capture Markandeya’s life. The lasso captures Markandeya and the Linga. Enraged by this act Shiva burst out of the Linga and attacks Yama to kill him.
The above wooden panel captures that moment.
Realizing that the natural cycle of life and death will be impaired without Yama, Shiva revived Yama with the condition Markandeya will live forever as a sixteen-year-old boy.
The act of destroying Yama by Shiva is Kala Samhara (Kala refers to time and death).
Despite the event, the conquest of Yama by Shiva, Yama is given the same importance as that the deity, with a Kiritimukha above him. A tacit statement about death.
The wooden panel captures Markandeya’s expression well, with him looking back at Yama with apprehension while embracing the Linga for support.
This is a two-block construction and this might have been a part of a temple chariot. The panel is about 33 cm in length, 31 cm in height and 6 cm thick. The carvings, at 4 cm, is quite deep. The wooden panel is from Tamil Nadu and it may not be earlier than the nineteenth century.
19 Apr 2020: The below Tanjore painting the same scene. The painting is from the collection of Mukund, an art lover and a collector. Thanks, Mukund.