The gleaming silvery light of the moon has been a thing of wonder for as long as time began – as the sliver of white has continued to expand fully and shrink back down until disappearing entirely, we’ve created celebrations, feasts, fasts and specific rituals according to the moon’s cycle. Indeed, amongst the sprinkling of stars in the night sky, the moon is something we often look to in times of pondering, loneliness or wonderment, and something with many bedtime tales to tell if we’re willing to pause and listen.
Ganesha and The Moon
A compilation of the words Ardha – the Sanskrit word for ‘half’ and Chandra – referring to ‘moon’, the yoga posture ardha chandrasana represents the moon in its halfway state, equally dark and light on both sides. As with all Sanskrit words, the word itself is not merely a label, rather it’s made upon the very essence and energy of what the word means. Chandra doesn’t just refer to the physical moon in the sky, but the luminescent femininity associated with the lunar cycle, the deity Chandra, the herb Soma, and in the yogic tradition, an association with the elephant-headed god Ganesh.
One of the traditional stories associated with the Moon from the Hindu tradition, is the curse inflicted upon anyone who looks at the moon during Ganesh Chaturthi – the yearly celebration of Ganesh and all he represents. The mythological story begins with Ganesh – son of Lord Shiva and goddess Parvati – accepting sweets from a disciple. Now, Ganesh loved sweets, so after he tasted the first of them, he continued to hoard more and more for the rest of the day.
That night as he made his way home carrying his sugary treats, he tripped on a stone and stumbled, dropping the sweets and sending them flying in every direction. Ganesh hurriedly picked up the sweets in embarrassment and caught a glimpse of the moon. What he saw made the whole situation even worse; the moon god Chandra had seen and was laughing at Ganesh! Slightly more embarrassed and now angry too, Ganesh cursed the moon. Being a gentle god, Chandra quickly made a heartfelt apology and when Ganesh saw how sincere he was, he forgave him under one condition: everyone could look at the moon on any day of the year other than that date, and if they did so they’d be cursed, facing troubles and false accusations. The good news is that you can lift the curse if you happen to look at the moon on Ganesh Chaturthi – simply listen to or read the story of the Syamankta Jewel in the ancient Hindu scriptures of the Puranas.
The Changing Moon & The Unchanging Self
When we speak of the Sanskrit language holding the essence of words, we might recognise how certain words hold and energy for each of us. The moon had long been linked to feminine qualities in many cultures, and when practicing it, we’re offered an opportunity to cultivate a gentle yet powerful, cool yet aware, and truly feminine quality for ourselves.
The qualities of coolness, power and femininity may at times seem a little out of reach for some of us – reserved only for people like Beyonce and the women on magazine covers, whilst we wobble and flail, and sometimes fall in the attempt to hold an asana. It’s days like this however, when we feel our most un-cool, ungrounded and less than feminine, when we have the opportunity to reflect. Each time we practice a yoga posture we’re gifted with a lesson and a deep learning; the posture never changes, but we do. Through understanding that we are different each time we practice, we come to accept and adapt, and create a relationship with our changing selves.
Just as the moon may look like half of itself, or at times gone entirely, there’s an awareness within us all that the moon is still definitely there, and it’ll return in a day or so. In the very same way, when we feel like half of ourselves, or when we seem to have lost ourselves completely, when our bodies change, when we feel good or bad, when we feel vulnerable, irritable, emotional or lonely, when we feel full of joy, love and excitement, we can practice remembering that the true self is always there and always unchanging. That part of us that lies patiently behind the body, the ego, the personality, the fluctuating moods and thoughts, the wobbly yoga posture or even the picture-perfect pose – yes that part behind all of that doesn’t change. It’s totally pure and a piece of the universe itself, it’s there when we forget about it, and it’s there when we catch tiny glimpses of it through meditation.
The posture ‘half moon’ itself is a reminder that no matter what happens on the outside, who we are inside is unchanging and powerful, so the next time you practice ardha chandrasana or gaze up at the moon (but not on Ganesh Chaturthi, which will be September 2nd in 2019!), remember that no matter how you feel that day, change will come sooner or later, and your truest self is always pure and unchanging, waiting to be discovered inside.