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A peek inside a Myanmar monastery, finding solitude, studying and smiles

Paula Bronstein / Getty Images

A Burmese monk studies in the great hall of the Kha Khat Wain Kyaung monastery which is one of the three largest in the country on Dec. 13 in Bago, Myanmar.

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Approximately 90 percent of the Burmese population practices Buddhism and the monks number well over 500,000. They are seen as the nation's most important religious and civil institution and every Burmese male is expected to take up temporary monastic residence twice in his life.  In March, the army handed power to a civilian government after almost five decades of the military regime's strong arm rule. The handover took place after a controlled election under a new constitution that preserved much of the military clout.  Restrictions on communication such as the internet have been loosened as previously inaccessible foreign news and opposition websites have been unblocked.

See more scenes and photos from Myanmar in PhotoBlog.

Paula Bronstein / Getty Images

A novice monk plays with a balloon during a study period at the monastery on Dec. 16 in Inle Lake, Myanmar.

Paula Bronstein / Getty Images

Burmese monks take their yearly exam on Dec. 13 in Bago, Myanmar. Around 1,400 monks from Bago province took part.

Paula Bronstein / Getty Images

Burmese monks pray together Kha Khat Wain Kyaung monastery on Dec. 13 in Bago, Myanmar.