Photographer's Note

Shinbyu is the Burmese term for a novitiation ceremony in the tradition of Theravada Buddhism, referring to the celebrations marking the samanera ordination of a boy under the age of 20.

Festivals start on the eve of shinbyu called "a-hlu" with a "pw" - an orchestra and dance/drama/comedy ensemble and tea for the guests. In the middle of a street, a pandal or mandat constructed from bamboo and papier mache with ornately painted gold and silver columns, pediments and finials has sprung up overnight. Sweets such as jaggery or cane sugar bars and a-hlu lahpet, pickled tea laced with sesame oil encircled by small heaps of fried peas, peanuts and garlic, toasted sesame, crushed dried shrimps and shredded preserved ginger) are served with green tea. In towns and cities, assorted cakes, ice cream and coffee have superseded the traditional sweets but lahpet still holds centre stage.

The big day starts early with a procession called the shinlaung hl pwe to the monastery, the young boy dressed in resplendent silks embroidered with gold as a royal prince or king, shielded from the sun by a gold umbrella and led on horseback by an orchestral band headed by a clown with a moustache called U Shwe Yoe holding a parasol and dancing merrily. This ritual symbolises Prince Siddhartha Gautama's departure from the royal palace with its sensuous pleasures and luxuries at the age of twenty nine, leaving his wife and newborn son in search of the Four Noble Truths. Behind his horse follows the family, his proud parents carrying the monastic robes and other eight requisites, called pareihkara shippa and his sisters or young village maidens carrying ceremonial boxes of paan and lotus blossoms all in their best silks with the rest of the joyous party completing the procession.

The novice-to-be may be the centre of attention, but his sister may at the same ceremony have an ear-piercing with a gold needle, dressed up as a royal princess herself.


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Additional Photos by Leszek Stefaniuk (jabumbum) Silver Note Writer [C: 4 W: 0 N: 428] (1310)
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