Shinbyu is the Burmese term for a novitiation ceremony in the tradition of Theravada Buddhism. It is deemed the most important duty that parents owe to their son by letting him go forth and embrace the legacy of the Buddha, join the Sangha (monastic community) and become immersed in the teachings of the Buddha, the Dhamma, at least for a short while, perhaps longer if not for the rest of his life. A boy may become a novice on more than one occasion. Those who are not blessed with a male child will seek for an orphan boy or a boy from very poor families in order to receive this special dispensation by the Buddha and hence gain great merit by the act. Shinbyu may well be regarded as a rite of passage or coming of age ceremony as in other religions. Allowing a son to spend some time however short it may be, in a Buddhist monastery is regarded by most Buddhists as the best religious gift that his parents can give him and it is believed to have a lasting effect on his life.
The novitiates-to-be wear a royal outfit before ordination to re-enact Rahula's (Buddha's son) rejection of a princely life in exchange for a life of self-detachment. We came across this ceremonial procession as they stopped at an ancient gate to the city of Bagan to say prayers at a small wayside shrine. This is a very open and public ceremony and they were very pleased that we wanted to take photographs.