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Why the Moon changes shape

The Usborne Book of the Moon
Illustration from The Usborne Book of the Moon

For the 50th anniversary of the Moon landings, we published The Usborne Book of the Moon – a celebration of the beauty and mystery of the Moon, as well as the Space Race and stories from around the world.  

Author Laura Cowan reveals one of her favourite stories from Hindu mythology about how the Moon got its shape.

When I started planning The Usborne Book of the Moon, I found out lots and lots of new and exciting things about the Moon. I enjoyed reading about scientists and thinkers, astronauts and cosmonauts, but most of all I enjoyed reading Moon legends.

Long, long ago, people made up many stories to try to understand the Moon. They made up so many, in fact, that The Usborne Book of the Moon would need a thousand pages for them to fit. Even though I filled four pages with Moon legends, I couldn’t include all the ones I liked. Now I'd like to tell you another. Hindu mythology has several about the Moon and Ganesha, the elephant-headed god. The one I’ve chosen is about why the Moon changes shape...

Laura Cowan, author of The Usborne Book of the Moon
Laura Cowan, author of The Usborne Book of the Moon

The story of Ganesha and the Moon

Late one night, the Moon is big and full in the sky as it was every night in those days. Far below on Earth, Ganesha rides home aboard his trusty mouse. Ganesha has been at a feast, so he’s STUFFED with food. A snake slides out from the trees and startles Ganesha’s mouse. The mouse bolts behind a tree in fright. Ganesha topples to the floor and ALL the food he’s eaten FALLS OUT of his stomach. KER-PLOP. 

Ganesha scrabbles around on the ground, trying to put all the food back inside his belly. Up in the night sky, the Moon god is watching, and he laughs and LAUGHS at Ganesha.

Ganesha looks up and roars. He SNAPS off a tusk and HURLS it at the Moon. BAM! The Moon splits in two. One whole side of him hurtles down to Earth.

‘I’m taking all your light!’ shouts Ganesha, ‘You will be dark FOREVER and NO ONE will see you again!’

The Moon god pleads with Ganesha, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it! Please let me have it back!’

Ganesha huffs and puffs, but then he calms down a little.

‘Hmmm, alright – perhaps not FOREVER. What about this? At the beginning of every month you won’t have ANY light. No one will see you. But, each night your light will grow a little bit, until everyone can see ALL of you. After that your light will become smaller and smaller until you disappear. Just when you think no one will ever see you, then your light will start to grow again. This is what I decide.’

The Moon god HAD to be grateful. He stayed quiet. From then until forever, over the course of every month, the Moon changes shape, from a crack of light to a GREAT BIG shining circle that fills the sky with its glow.

You can find lots more myths about the Moon in The Usborne Book of the Moon.

You can also visit Usborne Quicklinks to download a teacher's resources pack based on this book and for links to websites where you can watch the first Moon landing, listen to Neil Armstrong, and find more facts, stories, myths, puzzles and activities about the Moon.

The Usborne book of the Moon

The Usborne book of the Moon

For thousands of years, the Moon has been the one thing in the night sky that everyone anywhere on our planet recognises. Trace the story of the Moon around the world and through history, from ancient legends about its creation, to its first sighting through a telescope, right up until the Apollo 11 mission and the first Moon landing in 1969.


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