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Thai Cave Boys Ordained As Buddhist Novices

Eleven of the boys who were rescued from a cave in Thailand earlier this month — an international mission that captivated the world — have been ordained as Buddhist novices in honor to the volunteer diver who died during the harrowing ordeal.

Amid rain and fog, the boys swapped all-white lay clothing for traditional saffron-colored robes. The ceremony included prayers and chanting at a mountaintop temple on Wednesday, wire services reported. They will spend nine days there, following Buddhist teachings and precepts.

A day earlier the Wild Boar teammates had their heads shaved in preparation for the sacred ritual.

In a separate ceremony, the group's 25-year-old soccer coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, was ordained a monk. The twelfth member of the team is not Buddhist and did not participate in the religious event.

"Their lives will change now," Manit Prakobkit, an official of a regional cultural group, told reporters, according to Reuters. "This experience will help them to appreciate their parents and give them a taste of Dhamma."

Becoming a Buddhist novice is a common rite of passage for most young Thai boys, Robert Buswell, director of the Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of California Los Angeles, told NPR. Similarly, most adult men in their early 20s are ordained as monks, he added.

Buddhism is Thailand's main religion.

"For the boys it's an indication that they have transitioned into adulthood. And everything about it — the shaved head, the orange robes — is showing that you've left behind the petty concerns of the secular world and are now focusing on more serious concerns instead," Buswell said.

Praphun Khomjoi, chief of the regional branch of the National Office of Buddhism, told The Associated Press that the boys had entered the monkhood in memory of the Saman Kunan, a former Thai navy SEAL who died in the effort to rescue the boys.

"The teachings that we would like to the boys to learn is the awareness of themselves and the importance of their lives," Praphun said. "It is extraordinary to be born as humans. And as we are given this opportunity, we should use Buddhist principles or principles of any religions as guidance for living. That's the lesson that we want them to learn."

The entire soccer team — a dozen boys ranging in age from 11 to 16 — and Chanthawong, became trapped about a mile into the Tham Luang Cave on June 23. They survived for nine days drinking the same fresh water that kept them cut off from the outside world.

The group was found hungry and dehydrated by two British divers. They were subsequently extracted individually, over three days.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.