Fly me to the moon – with an elixir of immortality !
If you read our last post on Moon cake, where I confessed my singular, discriminatory love for sweet moon cakes, perhaps you are wondering – what else is there to this festival?
Say hello to my little friends – Chang’e The Moon Lady a.k.a Chị Hằng Nga and The Moon Boy a.k.a Chú Cuội , two mythical legends that are attached to the Mid-autumn Festival, making it larger than life and embedding meaning into the festival.
Most children in Vietnam are familiar with the stories of these two iconic characters whose images are the staple in promotional materials for any Mid-autumn related events or products.
Trivia: Pseudo celebrities and amateur models love cosplaying Hang Nga.
Famous amateur model Lilly Luta. Source: baomoi.com
The legend of Hang Nga
An ancient depiction of Hang Nga. Source: Wikipedia
Hang Nga was an exceptional beauty, married to Hau Nghe – an extraordinary archer. As the legend goes, Hang Nga and Hau Nghe were immortal gods residing in the heavens with the Jade Emperor. One fine day, the Jade Emperor, out of sheer anger, ordered his 10 sons to morph into 10 suns to scorch the Earth and punish humans. Hau Nghe felt sympathetic towards defenseless mortal beings on Earth and decided to use his archery skills to shoot down 9 suns, leaving only one to shine to eternity. The Jade Emperor upon realizing this act of treachery that killed 9 of his sons, banished the couple to Earth to live as mere mortals.
When the people heard that their saviour was banished to Earth, they flocked to him in droves hoping to learn his skills. Hau Nghe thus started to accept pupils and spent his days teaching archery. Hang Nga, however, was deeply impacted by the banishment, especially by the loss of her immortality. Hau Nghe loved his wife and didn’t want to see her suffer, so he pursued a quest to find the fountain of youth to give themselves immortality. On his quest he met the Queen Mother of the West, who felt sympathetic to his story and decided to gift him an exlixir of immortality. Ecstatic, Hau Nghe brought the elixir back home and asked Hang Nga to store it safely until he is done with his teachings.
Unbeknownst to the couple, one of their students had ulterior motives. He knew Hau Nghe was in possession of an immortality elixir and wanted to steal the elixir. One day, while Hau Nghe was deep in the forest honing his skills, the student broke into his house and confronted Hang Nga. Knowing she couldn’t give the elixir to an evil man, Hang Nga had no choice but to swallow the elixir to protect herself and keep it from the hands of the wrong man.
Upon swallowing the exlixir, Hang Nga’s body immediately became weightless. She floated up higher and higher into the sky. Hau Nghe tried to shoot her down but failed miserably. Desperate to be as close to her husband as possible, Hang Nga held on to the moon and stayed there.
Hang Nga floating to the sky. Source: Wikipedia
Every year, on full moon days, Hau Nghe looks up at the moon to see his beautiful wife and places offerings in spiritual rituals to profess his love.
This is one version of the story. Like all myths and legends, there are variants of the story with different details, but the plot remains much the same.
On our next blog post, read about another famous tale of The Moon Boy – a fun story that involved a tree, urine, and flying.