18 WILD SPORTS OF BURMA AND ASSAM
on these rockets are laid and fired, all endeavouring to be the first to light the pyre. But before this, as the bier with the dead priest approaches, two sides are formed, ropes are attached to the car, front and rear, and the two pull against one another much as %ve do when playing at the tug of war; but generally it is a mere pretence, those retarding it give way, and the triumphant party drag the coffin to the pyre and quickly place it in position.
The hubbub and noise are deafening, and the dust fearful. Everybody is dressed to within half-an-inch of their lives, and after some hoursa jollification, in which women and children freely mix and take a part, the whole of the structures so carefully and tastefully erected are burned down, the crowd separates, each one going on his or her way rejoicing. The saturnalia begins two days before the cremation, but ends soon after it.
The scene, though repugnant to our ideas of what is becoming at a funeral, is, whilst it lasts, a very gay one, and is meant as a mark of respect to departed goodness. The gorgeous apparel of the men and women, the numerous flags and banners, the structures so gaily painted and resplendent with tinsel, gold-leaf, and silver, help to light up the otherwise sombre scene, or which ought to be one.
Their priests are pure mendicants, they can possess no property, and are supported by the charity of their parishioners. They cannot speak to, or even look at, a woman ; they are well housed by the people, and act as village school-masters, and every Burman is taught to read and write his own language.
School commences about an hour before daybreak, and the noise made by the pupils is deafening. When I first heard it I thought it was an attack by Dacoits. Each lad spouts out his lessons at the top of his voice.
A phoongie can leave the priestly craft whenever he likes, and become a layman; but this is very seldom done, and one who does it is looked down upon. All the pupils are neophytes, and are dressed in a yellow robe, and go from house to house every morning with a bowl suspended from the neck. He solicits nothing, but accepts silently anything put into the