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"We are growing serious and, let me tell you, that's the very next step to being dull." -- Addison

366--Myanmar: Young Princes and Old Nats
@ CherieSpotting     Jul 30 2006 - 16:37 PST
Cherie writes: While Jean, Lynda and I stumbled randomly upon a beautiful traditional ceremony called: “Shin-pyu” while traveling up the road to Mt. Popa. The villagers dressed up their male children to look like princes. The young boys, wearing make-up and elaborate costumes, were mounted on horses. Even the local Oxen were dressed up for the colorful parade. Mothers and sisters offered flowers and food, while fathers and brothers held umbrellas and fanned the young monks-to-be.

The ceremony is meant to mimic when Siddhartha Gautama, who later became the Buddha, left his palace on horseback to meditate and attain Nirvana. After the procession, the young boys are sent to a local monastery to learn to be monks. Parents hope that their children will eventually choose to become a monk, which is considered a great honor in most Buddhist Myanmar families.

It’s common for rural villages in Myanmar combine nat worship, or “spirit worship”, with Buddhism. There are 37 “Great Nats” and many people have alters in their homes to worship specific nats. Because most of the nats were formerly humans who met horrible deaths, the nats have desires and attachments. Many traditional Buddhists denounce nat worship, but it is still typical for rural villages to have a patron nat.

The Myanmar villagers make pilgrimages to Mt. Popa to worship the nats. Popa Taung Kalat is a vertical dome of lava shaped like a massive thimble. When Mt. Popa blew her top 250,000 years ago, the resulting volcanic plug became known as Taung Kalat.

Jean and I were cautioned not to bring meat because it might offend the nats (as if I often carry a leg of pig with me when I begin a steep climb?) More likely, the smell of meat would attract the attention of the resident monkeys. On the steep (but shaded) climb to the top, out-of-breath visitors are greeted (and harassed) by numerous gangs of monkeys. Jean and I made it past the aggressive primates to the Buddhist shires perched on the summit like a volcanic crown.

Click on each picture to see it full size.

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Cherie admires the intricate designs of the stairways leading to the top of Taung Kalat, a place where the Myanmar people worship both the Buddha and nats (spirts). *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Cherie admires the intricate designs of the stairways leading to the top of Taung Kalat, a place where the Myanmar people worship both the Buddha and nats (spirts). *Photo by Jean Leitner.

As we drove up the road to Mt. Popa, we pulled over to watch this young monk ceremony.

As we drove up the road to Mt. Popa, we pulled over to watch this young monk ceremony.

Women walking through the village with offerings to the monks. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Women walking through the village with offerings to the monks. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

The entire town turns out for the ceremony called “Shin-pyu”. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

The entire town turns out for the ceremony called “Shin-pyu”. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Young boys dress as princes to mimic Siddhartha Gautama, who later became the Buddha. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Young boys dress as princes to mimic Siddhartha Gautama, who later became the Buddha. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

A procession of "young princes." *Photo by Jean Leitner.

A procession of "young princes." *Photo by Jean Leitner.

The little Buddha? *Photo by Jean Leitner.

The little Buddha? *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Siblings offer flowers as their brothers prepare to head to the monastery for teachings.

Siblings offer flowers as their brothers prepare to head to the monastery for teachings.

The villagers where their best clothes for this traditional annual event.

The villagers where their best clothes for this traditional annual event.

The women carry flowers, the men carry fans.

The women carry flowers, the men carry fans.

The young monks-to-be are escorted through town on horseback.

The young monks-to-be are escorted through town on horseback.

This little prince will soon be in monk-training.

This little prince will soon be in monk-training.

The Myanmar "little prince" parade.

The Myanmar "little prince" parade.

The children wear make-up and elaborate costumes.

The children wear make-up and elaborate costumes.

Even the Ox are dressed up.

Even the Ox are dressed up.

Watching the “Shin-pyu” ceremony was one of the unplanned highlights of our trip to Myanmar.

Watching the “Shin-pyu” ceremony was one of the unplanned highlights of our trip to Myanmar.

Two young monks-to-be.

Two young monks-to-be.

A woman with her little monk-to-be.

A woman with her little monk-to-be.

This Ox is ready to celebrate.

This Ox is ready to celebrate.

Ladies wait on the side of the road...only men can become Buddhas.

Ladies wait on the side of the road...only men can become Buddhas.

Keep the children cool in the shade.

Keep the children cool in the shade.

Ox-carts march through town.

Ox-carts march through town.

Could this little boy be the next little Buddha?

Could this little boy be the next little Buddha?

Later the boys will change into saffron robes as they enter the monastery.

Later the boys will change into saffron robes as they enter the monastery.

The children are draped in princely costumes and shaded by parasoles.

The children are draped in princely costumes and shaded by parasoles.

Looking back.

Looking back.

A caravan of kids on horseback.

A caravan of kids on horseback.

The Myanmar people send their children to the monastery to learn about Buddhism.

The Myanmar people send their children to the monastery to learn about Buddhism.

The monks-to-be learn to keep the Buddhist "Eight Precepts" during their time at the monastery.

The monks-to-be learn to keep the Buddhist "Eight Precepts" during their time at the monastery.

Some of the monks-to-be arrived in decorated wagons. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Some of the monks-to-be arrived in decorated wagons. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

It's a festive day in the back of an ox-cart. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

It's a festive day in the back of an ox-cart. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

The curious little prince. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

The curious little prince. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

The young boys stay at the monastery for up to a month learning the disciplines of Buddhism. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

The young boys stay at the monastery for up to a month learning the disciplines of Buddhism. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

All traffic on Mt. Popa stops as the colorful procession goes by. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

All traffic on Mt. Popa stops as the colorful procession goes by. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Little princes come in all sizes. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Little princes come in all sizes. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

When a child chooses to become a monk, it is a great honor for a Myanmar family. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

When a child chooses to become a monk, it is a great honor for a Myanmar family. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Just like the Buddha, the children go from being princes to being monks. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Just like the Buddha, the children go from being princes to being monks. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Is your cattle ready to party? *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Is your cattle ready to party? *Photo by Jean Leitner.

It's fun to be a price, it's peaceful to be a monk. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

It's fun to be a price, it's peaceful to be a monk. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

In Myanmar, the children learn the disciplines of Buddhism at a young age.  *Photo by Jean Leitner.

In Myanmar, the children learn the disciplines of Buddhism at a young age. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Not just a fancy horse-back ride, this festival is steeped in tradition. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Not just a fancy horse-back ride, this festival is steeped in tradition. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Cherie with the volcanic Taung Kalat in the distance. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Cherie with the volcanic Taung Kalat in the distance. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Cherie hanging out with the nats, which are spirits that the local Myanmar people worship in conjunction with Buddhism. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Cherie hanging out with the nats, which are spirits that the local Myanmar people worship in conjunction with Buddhism. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

There are 37 "Great Nats" or "great spirits". *Photo by Jean Leitner.

There are 37 "Great Nats" or "great spirits". *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Don't monkey around. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Don't monkey around. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Jean and Lynda with the nats.

Jean and Lynda with the nats.

Most nats were formerly humans who met horrible deaths.  Believers appease the nats needs and wants with offerings.

Most nats were formerly humans who met horrible deaths. Believers appease the nats needs and wants with offerings.

Finally, enough arms to get things done!

Finally, enough arms to get things done!

Nat worship is common in rural villages in Myanmar.

Nat worship is common in rural villages in Myanmar.

Jean by the Buddha and his disciples.

Jean by the Buddha and his disciples.

The Buddha continues to teach long after his death.

The Buddha continues to teach long after his death.

A rest at Taung Kalat.

A rest at Taung Kalat.

What's over here?

What's over here?

Myanmar men playing checkers.

Myanmar men playing checkers.

Cherie exploring. *Photo by Jean.

Cherie exploring. *Photo by Jean.

Cherie pays respect to the nats. *Photo by Jean.

Cherie pays respect to the nats. *Photo by Jean.

Give it a gong! *Photo by Jean.

Give it a gong! *Photo by Jean.

Taung Kalat is crowned with Buddist shrines. *Photo by Jean.

Taung Kalat is crowned with Buddist shrines. *Photo by Jean.

Cherie at the Taung Kalat overlook. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Cherie at the Taung Kalat overlook. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Jean at the top!

Jean at the top!

It's nap time.

It's nap time.

Buddhist reflections.

Buddhist reflections.

The winding path up to Taung Kalat may be steep, but at least it is shaded.

The winding path up to Taung Kalat may be steep, but at least it is shaded.

Jean walking up the steps.

Jean walking up the steps.

Hey, hey it's the monkeys.

Hey, hey it's the monkeys.

At Taung Kalat there is attention to every detail.

At Taung Kalat there is attention to every detail.

These flower offerings are forever.

These flower offerings are forever.

More nats waiting for worship.

More nats waiting for worship.

Cherie by the "Sunday" shrine.  In Myanmar, a persons personality traits are said to depend on which day they were born.

Cherie by the "Sunday" shrine. In Myanmar, a persons personality traits are said to depend on which day they were born.

The view from the top of Taung Kalat. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

The view from the top of Taung Kalat. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

So many stairs, no wonder the Myanmar people are so healthy and fit. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

So many stairs, no wonder the Myanmar people are so healthy and fit. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Jean with the Mt. Popa sign.

Jean with the Mt. Popa sign.

Nat offerings.

Nat offerings.

Offerings to the golden Buddha.

Offerings to the golden Buddha.

Jean surrounded by the dramatic temple tops of Taung Kalat.

Jean surrounded by the dramatic temple tops of Taung Kalat.

Cherie at the summit of Taung Kalat. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Cherie at the summit of Taung Kalat. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Look at the writing on the cans of soda that Cherie and Lynda are drinking. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Look at the writing on the cans of soda that Cherie and Lynda are drinking. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Cherie on top of the volcanic peak of Taung Kalat. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Cherie on top of the volcanic peak of Taung Kalat. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

A procession of monk statues. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

A procession of monk statues. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Alms for the statues? *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Alms for the statues? *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Cherie and Lynda. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Cherie and Lynda. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Jean by the Buddha statue.

Jean by the Buddha statue.

Jean, like the Buddha, was born on a Wednesday.

Jean, like the Buddha, was born on a Wednesday.

Mt. Popa blew its top and the volcanic plug came to be known as Taung Kalat.

Mt. Popa blew its top and the volcanic plug came to be known as Taung Kalat.

Jean flanked by a golden stupa.

Jean flanked by a golden stupa.

Cherie and Aunt Lynda look up. *Photo by Jean.

Cherie and Aunt Lynda look up. *Photo by Jean.

A place for Buddhists to worship. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

A place for Buddhists to worship. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Golden temples. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Golden temples. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

An incredible view. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

An incredible view. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Do the stairs ever end? *Photo by Jean Leitner.

Do the stairs ever end? *Photo by Jean Leitner.

A Myanmar monk near Mt. Popa. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

A Myanmar monk near Mt. Popa. *Photo by Jean Leitner.

A monk walks down the road to Mt. Popa.

A monk walks down the road to Mt. Popa.

Jean finishes the day off with a gong!  You have to love inter-active temples.

Jean finishes the day off with a gong! You have to love inter-active temples.