It was another one of those happy accidents, or at least an unplanned stroke of luck, that led me to a shin pyu ceremony being held at a neighborhood on 90th Street in Mandalay last month.
I was riding my bike towards U Tin Chit’s teashop on 90th Street one morning when I noticed the colorful trappings of the shin pyu ceremony adjacent to a monastery. I parked my bike and with camera in hand (of course!) I asked if it would be okay for me to take some photos. Ya ba de. Of course! There were several boys being “initiated” that morning, and their proud parents and grandparents were out in force. Two lovely ladies in the crowd invited me to stay in partake in meal, even though I was a total stranger just passing by. But that’s typical of Burmese hospitality; nobody is a stranger for long. I thanked the women, but begged off the meal invite, explaining that I had just had a big breakfast at my hotel. But I did stay and take more photos, lots of smiles amidst the beautiful décor.
So what, you ask, is a shin pyu ceremony? The shin pyu ceremony is considered a VERY important rite of passage in a young boy’s life in Myanmar, similar in a sense to a Jewish youth having his bar mitzvah. It’s considered somewhat of an obligation for the parents to give their son a shin pyu ceremony, but it’s not unheard of for other relatives or donors to contribute to the ceremony as they can be quite elaborate and expensive undertakings.
The shin pyu, or novitiation ceremony, often takes place during the summer months (March through May) in Myanmar when schools are closed. Normally the boys that participate are between the ages of 9 and 12, but sometimes younger or slightly older. As you can see in these photos the boys are decked in very elaborate and colorful costumes, or “princely attire,” and sport lots of makeup too!
In the morning of the ceremony there is usually a procession around town, or perhaps just around the neighborhood, in either a car or sometimes even on a horse! Depending on finances, there may also be a band or musical troupe accompanying the procession. Eventually the boys return home, change out of the fancy clothes and then go a monastery later in the afternoon, whereupon their heads are shaved and another ceremony is conducted, the boy then officially becoming a member of the Holy Order of Sangha. Typically, after a shin pyu ceremony, a boy will stay at the monastery as a novice monk for a minimum of one week.
I didn’t stick around for any processions or head shaving, but here are a few examples of one stage in the amazing shin pyu ceremony.