We had the pleasure of attending an incredible Buddhist tradition while traveling in Myanmar. The Buddhist Novitiation ceremony proved to be the highlight of our entire trip to this incredible country.
The Novitiation ceremony
The Shinbyu, or Novitiation ceremony, is a coming of age ceremony as in other religions, for boys under 20 years old. The ceremony is to celebrate boys entering into the order of the monks, a duty required in Buddhist Myanmar for a duration of one week or longer. The ceremony is performed between March- June every year, but one of this scale only happens every five to ten years. Over 3000 people from communities all across central Myanmar joyously attended this long weekend event for 145 boys from neighboring villages entering into the order.
Steps of the Novitiate ceremony
1. Blessings in the homes
The festivities of the day started with visiting some of the young boys’ family homes. We paid respect and offered blessings and donations to the father and mother of the household. Novitiation is the obligation of every parent and considered an important rite of passage to boyhood.
The boys started getting dressed for the occasion. Earlier in the day their heads are shaven. Then elaborate brightly colored costumes with matching face make-up of the same colors filled the village. These intricate costumes are symbolic in Buddhist folklore to the look of a royal prince.
2. The Procession
Early on in the day, the ordination procession of the over 20-year-old monks begins, a ceremony that enters these boys into full monkhood. It starts with a short alms offering of money to the men. These men have now become fully ordained monks, to fulfill more years in the monastery if they so desire.
Next, the procession started toward the monastery. It was a spirited, happy spectacle. As far across the fields as we could see, families paraded to the village joining the long colourful train.
The decorated Pandal or bamboo chairs, were hoisted on the shoulders of the men of the family while the boys were ceremoniously carried above their heads, shaded with gold umbrellas. In larger cities, and depending on stature, boys may be riding horses, oxes or elephants. Here the Pandal was painted to resemble a horse.
To pay respect to the Buddha, the parade circles clockwise around the monastery. Following the boys are the fathers, mothers and sisters and are given the duties of carrying the Alms Bowl, the monk robes, and ceremonial lotus flowers.
We saw a beautiful array of the traditional tribes and the finest colourful formal wear, particularly from the Danu and the Pa-Oh tribe communities.
An enthusiastic group of musicians on chimes, drums, and bamboo sticks followed the procession as many joined in with dancing and singing. Wow! What a spectacular event!
No celebration is complete without a satisfying feast. Hundreds of low round tables set on fine bamboo mats and rugs set the stage for the welcoming traditional feast of soup, curried salted fish, vegetables, rice, fermented green mango and bean sprouts.
4. The Monastery Ceremony
Once the procession was over, the families were brought to the monastery. Boys were stripped down of their colourful costumes and left in their white undergarments. After the senior monks perform alms and prayers, they are transformed, by receiving their maroon robes. The residing monks help them into the robes showing them how they are to be worn.
We felt such gratitude witnessing the Novitiation ceremony, and couldn’t help admire the sense of community and strong Buddhist traditions. Head to Myanmar during March-April and you are very likely to witness this incredible Buddhist tradition.
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Troy is an ex-TV editor and producer originally from Canada. He quit his 20+ year career to pursue a life of long-term, slow and transformative travel. Now with his wife Dorene, he helps people who want to redefine their midlife by making conscious changes at TravelLifeExperiences. He also works with travel and hospitality brands to create and share their video stories at TravelLifeMedia.com