If you visit Myanmar, especially around the Burmese New Year, you’ll see cheery and colorful parades all around you. Amidst the parades will be young boys, aged seven to 20 years, sitting with crowns on thrones carried on the shoulders of muscular men. When you spot this, know that you’re watching Shinbyu.
At least 90% of the Burmese population practices Buddhism. Shinbyu is the initiation ceremony of young boys in Myanmar which mimics the rite of passage the Buddha took during his spiritual transition. It’s when Myanmar boys are sent to the local monastery to learn about monkhood and become monks later in life. A monk is a person who renounces worldly pleasures to understand life and the higher power. It’s a coming-of-age ceremony that is believed to bring good luck to the boys’ families and is an auspicious time in the Burmese culture.
After marching around the temple, the parade heads to the monastery to help the young boys transform into little monks. Their heads are shaved and their silk robes are replaced with humble saffron robes to show detachment from worldly pleasures. After bidding their children an adieu, the families celebrate with food and dance.
Once in the monastery, the boys will lead a simple, disciplined life, learn scriptures, fast from noon to dawn, and collect alms (charity in the form of food) from the locals. Some boys will stay novice (a person who takes on a religious role for the first time) monks for a week, others may stay longer. Studies show that thousands of Burmese permanently become monks once they reach adulthood.
What a beautiful ritual!