Chinese festivals are some of the most joyous and colorful mass celebrations in the world. Behind the mosaic of colors and lights, there is always a beautiful legend. One of the most romantic and heart-warming is the legend of Chang E (嫦娥): the Chinese Goddess of the Moon.
I came to know about Chang E through a Chinese friend of mine who recently had told me about this beautiful legend behind the Moon Festival, which had been recently celebrated around the world. The great legend had various versions throughout the centuries.
A long long time ago, there were ten suns that used to rise all together shining their intense light upon the Earth. The ten suns scorched the crops and burned the forests. Rivers and lakes were dried out. Famine plagued all living things and drove people into dire poverty. Wild beasts preyed on people. Great despair fell upon the lands and seas.
In the midst of chaos, a legendary god-like warrior by the name of Hou Yi (后弈) was deeply troubled by what had befallen the people. He took his bow and arrows and set off eastward towards the suns. Hou Yi climbed mountains and hills, crossed rivers and valleys till he reached the top of the Kunlun Mountains. From there, Hou Yi aimed and shot his arrows at the suns. One by one, they fell down to the shot of Hou Yi's arrows. Every time a sun disappeared, the scorching heat seemed to wither away. Hou Yi shot down nine suns and left one to shine in the sky giving people light.
Hou Yi became a hero and was loved by many. He had a loving kind hearted wife whom he cherished the most and whose beauty was unsurpassed. Her name was Chang E. One day, Hou yi met the Queen Goddess of the West (西王母) who was believed to be the dispenser of eternal bliss and longevity. She rewarded Hou Yi for his heroic deed by giving him an elixir of immortality which when taken would make one ascend to heaven and become an eternal celestial being. Not wanting to part with his loving wife whom he treasured most in his heart, Hou Yi gave the elixir to Chang E for safe keeping.
The secret of the elixir was then discovered by one of the Hou Yi's martial art disciples who, blinded by greed and the prospect of eternal life, wanted to force Chang E, sword in hand, to give him the elixir when Hou Yi left home. Chang E resisted but when was not able to stop the man, she rushed to the safe box . In one last desperate measure to stop the man from stealing her husband's treasure, Chang E took up the elixir and swallowed it in one gulp ! Instantly, Change E's body became light, floated off the ground and ascended to the heavens.
After realizing what had happened, Hou Yi was overcome with grief. Looking up into the night sky, he called out his beloved wife's name to no avail. Taken by how the moon was astoundingly bright, round and clear, Hou Yi saw a swaying shadow that resembled Chang E on the moon. Constantly occupied with the thought of his wife, Hou Yi arranged a table in the garden upon which he burned incense that Chang E loved. He laid sweetmeats and fruits that Chang E enjoyed. When people heard of what had become of Chang E, they too burned incense in the moonlight and prayed for happiness, good fortune, love and eternal bliss.The bond between Hou Yi's and Chang E's hearts was strong and stayed attached at a distance. Chang E stayed on the moon watching over beloved her husband in eternal solitude.
Till this day, on the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month of every year, Chinese people look up into the night sky searching for Chang E on the bright full moon, burning incense, making delicious food and sweets in prayer for a better life.