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As beautiful as a prince

I do not know if other villages have this tradition; but in Gon Zaung, a village in central Myanmar, they used to have this charming custom: when a boy was about to enter the monastery as a novice, another family in the village would take over part of the preparations. That is, they will bear the expense of dressing up the boy in borrowed finery so that he could be shown off with due pomp and ceremony, something his parents might not have the means to provide, or else have the expertise for it, as it also entails making up his face to look as beautiful as a prince.

Then, the novices in their finery would be paraded all over the village before making their way to the monastery. People would line the streets to watch and comment: now which novice looks his best? Who has the best clothes, the most costly jewels? Finally, the all-important question, who dressed him? The people would informally vote on the Best Dressed Novice of the year and come next novication time, the parents of aspiring novices would go to that person to ask for help, even those who could afford to do it on their own. Now that was high prestige for the make-over artists… according to this custom of thirty years ago.

From Stone, by Nay Win Myint (1995) translated by Ma Thanegi.

Photos taken in Old Bagan, Myanmar, November 2014.