Poy Sang Lung: Traditional Novitiation Ceremony of Shan People

Tai people inhabited in a large area of Asia, including Thailand, Laos, and the Eastern part of Myanmar. The Tai people is called Shan in Myanmar and Shan State is located eastern part of Myanmar. Shan ethnic group has diverse traditional customs such for pregnancy, taking birth, naming, novitiate, and marriages ceremony. Among these customs, the novitiate ceremony is important for Buddhists because all male Buddhists must go through this ceremony.

Shan people call this ceremony or festival as Poy Sang Long in Shan Language. Poy means festival and Sang Long means a young boy who will become as a novice. So Poy Sang Long is a rite of passage initiated for teenage boys between the age of seven and fourteen years of age as Buddhist novices. The novice monk participates in the monastery life for one week or a few months. Some might take the monkhood for their whole life from that time.

The festival is held in March and April of the year and that time is a holiday for students. Poy Sang Long is a collective donation of the Shan people. It is taken time to 3 days for the ceremony. Before the ceremony for one week or two weeks, the boys who will be novices have to go monastery to learn monkhood literature. So they can recite damma ( monkhood literature) in novice hood. Since the pre-festival, a donation pavilion is built and prepared for traditional drama.

The ceremony is undertaken by the community of the village or city. The leaders of the youth leaders for the invitation and catering. During the ceremony, donors feast with traditional foods to the guests who come to the ceremony. The festival is celebrated by the whole community. In the evening of the day before the festival, the boys will be shaving their hair and are called Sang Long (novice-to-be) . After shaving hair and starting the ceremony, Sang Long who the novice monks- to-be are not allowed to touch the earth with their feet for three days before they ask their vows and follow Buddhist monastic principles. Hey, can only touch the ground either inside a family home or a temple.

On the first day of the festival, the boys are taken bath with golden syrups and applied shiny made up, and dressed like princes to join the parade in the village or city. At that day, novices–to–be are brought to the shrine of the guardian spirit of the village or city to show respect of the community. While joining the parade they are carried on the shoulder by their fathers or relatives. At the right of the boy, a person who carries a decorated umbrella for shading him, and at the left, another person shower popcorn to the boy and carries a bamboo flat. In front of them, ladies who are called village belle carry the betel box and lotus blossom. The traditional music is played and all people dance with the melody of the instruments. For the next three days of the festival, the boys are carried around the town accompanied by their assistants. The boys have dressed in three costumes for three days of the ceremony. Friends and relatives are ready to greet their princely relatives, as they believe that it will bring good luck. On the second day, Sang Longs, parents, and relatives go to give respect to the elder people in the village and monasteries of the nearby villages.

On the last day, Sang Long will take vows of the monastery. The procession with Sang Long is carried on the shoulder by the father led by musicians with the mother and sisters dancing behind and then arriving to the monastery. When arriving inside the monastery, each boy has to ask the monk for permission to be a novice. With the permission of the monk, the boys start the process of removing the elaborate make and costumes and change into the robes offered by their parents. The ceremony of the sons into the monkshood is a proud event for all Buddhist parents, and they believe that it will give them the highest merit.

During Poy Sang Long, there is also a ceremony for the ordination of 20 years old man who went through Sang Long in the past. Poy Sang Long ceremony is the main donation of the Shan people. After this ceremony, they believe that they can get another good life after their end. There is a saying in Shan people that ' Shan farmers are the people who always give 25% of their income away, who would have such generosity?'

07 July 2022
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