Have you ever looked up at the moon and seen a rabbit or a hare? For some reason I see something that resembles a Mickey-Mouse walking! Or perhaps Bugs Bunny – which is a rabbit per say but not the conventional one that the rest see…well, did you know there are many legends around the world about this rabbit that lives on the moon?
The rabbit, deer, man or frog that is seen by many on the moon are mere markings/dark spots on the moon’s surface which are the remnants of giant volcanic eruptions that happened early in the Moon’s history. This phenomenon of seeing patterns or images when there aren’t any is what is known in science as “pareidolia”. Whatever that it is called we all love to find figures and patterns in clouds or rock formations.
The legend of the rabbit in the moon is common to many ancient cultures. In East Asian folklore, the rabbit is seen pounding with a mortar and pestle. The Aztecs believed that there were two suns in the sky so the gods threw a rabbit onto the face of the second sun to forever mark it and diminish its brightness—thus creating the moon.
It’s not just a rabbit! There are folklores about other animals too like deer and toads. Maori folk legends tell of a maiden, Rona, in the moon. In some traditional European folklore there is a man in the moon carrying a bundle of wood over his shoulder.
The legends are endless, but the ones that I have heard and read since my childhood are the Indian versions. The moon itself is called as “शशाङ्क “ (Shashank) in one of its many names, which means “the hare-marked one”. This Sanskrit word names the moon to be marked with the silhouette of a hare and ties the Rabbit/Hare folklores with the spots on the moon.
The other Sanskrit narratives talk of a deer that is seen riding on the moon. In Sanskrit texts, blackbucks are called “Krushna Mrug” (black deer) and they are the vahanas (vehicles or mounts) of Vayu (the wind god) and Chandra (the moon god). Hence a deer is often believed to ride around the moon and is connected with the shapes and patterns seen on the moon or in the aura around it.
In other tales there’s a man who is banished to live on the moon as he is too lazy to work or adjust anywhere. However, the most famous and popular is the Buddhist Jataka Story of the rabbit’s ultimate sacrifice. The story goes like this:
“In one of Buddha’s previous life he is born as a rabbit and befriends a fox and a monkey. They lived together in harmony and swore to be friends forever. Believing in doing deeds for some greater good they all resolved to practice charity on the day of the full moon.
Once a hungry, the old man comes into the forest and begs the animals for some food. The monkey gathered nuts/mangoes from the nearby trees, the fox runs to a nearby river and steals some fish, but the rabbit — who ate only grass — had nothing to offer to the man. So the rabbit offered its own body/flesh and threw itself into a fire the man had built.
The rabbit, however, was not burnt. The old man revealed himself to be Śakra (ruler of the Buddhist Heaven) and, touched by the rabbit’s virtue, gave the rabbit immortal life by placing him on the moon. It is said the rabbit still lives on and the moon too often drapes itself in smoke to commemorate the rabbit’s ultimate sacrifice when it cast itself into the fire.”
There are different versions of this story. In some, the Buddha is the rabbit while in others he is the old man who wanders the forest to understand the true nature of all the creatures. The above narrated version of the story is very popular even in the Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Thai cultures. It’s interesting to note that most of these stories are common in many cultures around the world – crossing time and space!
What do you see? Do you know any other folklore about these spots on moon?
Well, for many millennia now the rabbit, deer, frog, maiden or the moon man are living on the moon for us to see on full moon nights. Have you seen them? In case you haven’t, next full moon just look up at the moon, you’ll see them watching over you, like they have for all these years!
© 2018 Ashwini Nawathe, Kaleidoscope of My Life
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