As we were moving towards another gallery we came across a ceremony, our guide told us to be quite unusual at this time of the year - the future monk and nun novices' ceremony, which is considered as the most important moment in the life of young Burmese boys and girls who are initiating themselves as novices in the orders.
Different groups of similarly dressed women and men filled the yard as they danced to the ear piercing sound of traditional drums and gongs. It was quite a sight to watch the subtle movement of the blended colours of their rich traditional costumes but the highest point was when the future novices in rather richly decorated costumes started walking onto the yard followed by their mentors (and ceremony financial supporters) under equally decorated umbrellas.
At one point it seemed there were only girl novices because the profusely painted faces of the boys together with the silver and gold necklaces and any other jewellery they were carrying as well as the colours of their clothes gave them a rather feminine look. It was soon made clear that the costume colours were different as in accordance with the genders and the pecularity of the hats or head bands were also different .
I was particularly impressed by one specific future monk novice wearing strong make up and patterned thanaka on his cheeks. He was dressed up in pink and highly adorned in gold and silver. There was an exquisite beauty and androginous look about him which I couldn't help looking at.
As I was watching the sequencing of the ritual dancing ceremony I recalled what I had been told, especially regarding the young ages of the future novice monks and nuns.
During the period between their ninth and twelfth birthdays boys are deemed ready to don the saffron coloured robes of the sangha and become sons of Buddha (novice nuns wearing pink). Once the ceremony is arranged the village they live at is told and contributions are collected to be added to the parents' savings . In the weeks before the ceremony children should familiarise with the language and behaviour befitting either a monk or a nun.
In Myanmar there are about 400,00 monks and 50,000 nuns, which is surprising enough but reinforces the concept that until a Buddhist has gone through the "shin-pyu" ceremony he is regarded as being no better than an animal. To become "human" he must for a time withdraw from secular life, following the example set forth by the Buddha when he left his family to seek enlightment.
(To be continued)