YANGON, Myanmar — With golden umbrellas covering them from the equatorial sun, boys in princely attire are hoisted onto the shoulders of their fathers and uncles, part of a ritual carried out this time every year at Buddhist pagodas all over Myanmar: young would-be-novices preparing to enter the monkhood.
They circle around the temples in hopes of winning a blessing from Buddha, processions of beautifully dressed damsels following closely behind.
The boys are then taken to the monastery so their heads can be shaved.
The "shinbyu" ceremony, followed by all Myanmar Buddhists, is said to date back more than 2 1/2 millennia, a religious gift given by Buddha to his own son, Rahula.
Though most boys remain monks for just a few days, ordination is seen as a rite of passage in this predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million. In addition to learning the basic tenants of their faith, it serves as a sort of spiritual credit for their parents, helping emancipate them from a vicious cycle of rebirth and death.
Tears of joy well up in the eyes of 68-year-old Daw Mya Tin, as she watches a razor being pulled across the head of her 12-year-old grandson.
"I wanted to see my grandson enter monkhood before I passed," she says. "I am very happy for him and that I am able to fulfill my own wish of seeing him become a monk."