How the Moon Comes Alive in South Asia

In a culture where romance too often must be conducted in secrecy, the moon has come to symbolize the sole companion to love.

radio rani moon
Illustration: Radio Rani

Imaan Sheikh


January 8, 2021

The moon is an irreplaceable element of South Asian art, literature, and culture. Whether you’re in Peshawar or Pokhara, mentions of the heavenly body are threaded into local vocabulary. Our terms of endearment — chanda, chaandni — reflect our love for the moon. Our first names — Mahtab, Chandrama, Mahjabeen — pay homage to it. Reverence for the moon beams through our epics, scriptures, paintings, and poems. The lullabies Brown mothers have sung to their children for centuries are tinged with its silhouette.

And it’s not just the softer things in life that are touched by moonlight. Our flags and architecture cannot escape its awe. Hindu deity Shiva adorns the crescent moon in his hair. In more recent history, the crescent moon has been used as a symbol of Islam due to influences from the Ottoman Empire. However, many credit the orientalist Western-British gaze for its modern-day identity as a recognizable Islamic blazon. Today, the crescent can be seen in the Pakistan, Maldivian, and Nepali flags, too.

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