musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

Posts tagged ‘novice monk’

Sharp-Dressed Monk

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At the monastery in Shan State’s Tat Ein village there is one novice monk who always stands out from the crowd, at least from my photographic viewpoint. I don’t know this boy’s name, but he’s been at the monastery for several years already, and he’s one of my favorites to capture on film. Oops, I guess we can’t say “film” any longer. In any case, he’s a pleasure to photograph every time I visit the monastery. He’s also a student at the primary school in the village.

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This novice monk certainly isn’t the tallest in the bunch, nor the oldest, or the most talkative. But when photo time comes around, he will almost always painstakingly wrap his robe with care, getting those folds just right, and sometimes adding an extra layer of garment or a towel of some sort. I mean, this kid really makes an effort to look the part of the studious, diligent young monk. While the other young monks will act goofy or ham it up, or even let their robes slip, this novice usually shows a more serious side and is meticulous about how he looks. Cue the ZZ Top song and change the lyrics to: “Sharp-Dressed Monk!”

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Shin Pyu Ceremony in Mandalay

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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 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.

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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.

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Shin Phyu from Zin Ko

It’s official: my camera is gone! No, I didn’t lose it or have yet another malfunction, but I no longer have it with me in Bangkok. When I was in Mandalay back in late November I left it with Zin Ko, one of the boys who has used the camera in the past. I didn’t foresee any need for the camera in the months ahead, and Zin Ko had expressed an interest in borrowing the camera to take photos at some neighborhood weddings that were coming up, so I told him he could keep it. I stressed to him, however, that I might need to use it again when I come to Mandalay next time, so this wasn’t necessarily a permanent gift. I told him that I was thinking about buying a new camera, but I didn’t have enough money yet. But if I did end up buying a new model, I promised that I’d give him the old one.

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Well, business has been very good at my bookshop the past couple of months, and determining that I now had enough money to splurge on a new camera, I broke down and bought one this week. I’ve almost worked out all the functions, but I’m a slow learner, so it’s going to take me a while to figure everything out. Now I need to phone up U Tin Chit’s teashop and leave a message for Zin Ko: the camera is now yours, kid. Go wild!

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In addition to weddings, another important tradition in Myanmar is the Shin Phyu, a Buddhist ceremony in which young boys go through an elaborate ritual before temporarily becoming a novice monk. This ritual involves dressing up in elegant costumes and putting on so much makeup that, well, you’d be inclined to think that you were seeing a girl. But no, it’s only a time-honored Burmese tradition and has nothing to do with cross-dressing. When I was in Mandalay last year several of the boys from the 90th Street neighborhood, including Zin Ko, gave me their Shin Phyu photographs as souvenirs. I scanned a few examples for today’s post.

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Meanwhile, I’ll be curious to see what sort of photos that Zin Ko has been taking. I haven’t scheduled my next trip to Mandalay yet, but I’m hoping for a return sometime in the first half of this year.

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Photos from Htun Lay, Shan State Novice Monk

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My guest photographer today is Htun Lay, a novice monk at the monastery in Shan State’s Tat Ein village. Except for the photo that I took of him above, all of the other shots are ones that he took, including the “self portrait” below!

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Htun Lay is also a student in Grade 4 at the village’s primary school. And let me tell you: he’s not one of the slackers, but a very diligent student. I’m worried, however, that he’ll do a disappearing act. It seems like every time I assign one of these novice monks the task of being a photography assistant, the following time I return to the village they aren’t around, having been transferred to another monastery in the region. But such is the life of many novice monks in Myanmar. Some are monks for only a few months, or perhaps a year or two, but for the ones that are in it for the long haul it often entails bouncing from one monastery to another.

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I’m not sure what Htun Lay has planned for his future, or how long he plans to study at the monastery, but he sure had a lot of fun with the camera this time. Enjoy these photos, taken by a very personable novice monk.

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Monk’s view of the Festival

My guest photographer today is Kaw Wi Da, a novice monk at the Tat Ein Monastery in Shan State, Myanmar. The photo above is his self portrait. The rest of the photos are ones that he took at the balloon festival in Taunggyi last month. This was the first time that Kaw Wi Da had ever used a camera. After giving him a quick tutorial, I turned the camera over to him and let him loose, only stopping periodically to give some pointers or grab back the Canon to take a few shots myself. Kaw Wi Da was a quick learner and seemed especially captivated by the camera’s zoom function. Look out girls; he’s sneaking up on you! I enjoyed watching the various animal-shaped balloons floating up, up and away at the festival that afternoon, but I also got a kick out of watching Kaw Wi Da and his friends have a thoroughly enjoyable time.

Classroom Portraits

My guest photographer today is Pyin Na Thiri, a novice monk at the Tat Ein Monastery in Shan State, Myanmar. The photo above is his self portrait. One of the teachers at the village’s primary school suggested one day that we take photos of all the students. To help keep this photo session orderly (Quite often when I take photos at the school, some of the boys will jump around, trying to jostle for position in front of the lens, and things get out of control!), she had the students sit in groups of two or three to pose for their picture. I asked my new photography assistant, Pyin Na Thiri, to help me take care of this task. The photos below are ones that he took of his classmates at the school, both during the sitting sessions, and later in the classroom.

 

 

 

 

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