Novitiation ceremony is important and essential for all Burmese parents, and as the vast majority of Myanmar is Buddhists, it’s not surprising that the novitiation ceremony is a national characteristic. Actually, novitiation is the initiation of a boy entering into monkhood and Buddha’s order, or in other way, it is the ceremony of a boy’s becoming a son of Lord Buddha. Boys whose age is under 20 is called Ko Yin, which means novice. Novitiation is therefore the initiation of a boy into Ko Yin.
First novitiation 2500 years ago
For seven years the young prince, Rahula, Buddha’s own son, had waited for his father because Buddha had left him when he was very young. One night, he listened to his mother telling a story of his father. What the little prince wanted to know is why his father had to leave. His mother explained that it was because his father wanted to seek a way to liberate himself from human’s inevitable courses such as pain, suffer and death. She said, “If he is enlightened about truth of the world and life, he would come back and teach mankind about what he has learnt.”
Seven years passed, Buddha came back with his head shorn, robed in yellow cloth, with brown bowl cradled in his arms. The young prince went to his father and said, “Father, give me my heritage”. Buddha gave him the yellow set of robe, the glorious heritage, as he requested. And that’s when the novice and novitiation ceremony originated.
Novitiation is very important to Buddhist Burmese. To arrange this religious ceremony for their sons, mothers will try saving money in order to have it held properly. They feel very proud of their sons for becoming novices. Besides, it is a great way for the new generation to get trained and learn about the value of traditional practice and religion.
Summer holiday is the usual time to hold novitiation for young boys which lasts for a week or more. When it will be held, depends on each family’s condition. In recent days, most of the families from the city choose the summer holiday to arrange novitiation while the harvest season is the best time for people in villages and small towns.
During the ceremony
What the ceremony includes depends simply on the financial status of the family. Some try to entertain the guests with Burmese cultural music and dances; some arrange a parade of the novice-to-be who sits on an elephant or a horse cart, and walk together in around the town or house. A novice-to-be wears a crown made of gold as well as glittery and shining sequins. He dresses in princely shine silk with a jewelry headdress. His parents and family members walk along carrying a set of robes and ornated betel box which will be offered to monks. Yet there are some families that want to make it just simple. Daw Khin Myo Chit, who wrote a famous book called: “Colorful Myanmar’, explained why she decided for her son’s ceremony to be a simple one. She reasoned that novitiation is a religious ceremony so she’d rather focus her spending on what only concerns religions. Therefore, in her son’s ceremony, neither friends nor relative were invited over; money has been spent on offerings, which is monk’s necessity.
Novices-to-be have their heads shaved when they reach the monastery. The boy’s father and mother hold a white sheet to receive their son’s shredding hairs. He then chants in Pali, asking for a monk’s permission to take him as a novice while holding a folded yellow robe in both hands. After putting on the robes, he is accepted as a novice, noble son of Lord Buddha. During a valuable period of novice-hood, he is not allowed to eat any food after noon, except for soft drinks and pure tea in the evening. This is one of our traditional values that exhibit through religious practice in Myanmar from one generation to another, which I hope for it to exist forever.