These are novices and monks waiting for a ceremony to start at Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara near Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Although a fading tradition, boys are sometimes enrolled for few years at temples as novices because their parents can’t afford schooling for them, one of the parents is abusive in the home, or because there is not enough income to support another child.
At the temple or monastery, they receive room and board and education through the affiliated Piravenas. In return, the novices perform chores around the temple and grounds. As they mature they are assigned religious duties such as teaching Sunday school.
When they reach their teens, some leave the temple and return home or go into vocational training and strike out on their own. Some choose to stay in the monastic life and seek full ordination.
Sometimes the experience is less than pleasant depending on the character of the young man and the personalities within the temple community. To learn more about one man’s personal experience, I highly recommend “Journey to Mindfulness”, a book about the actual experiences of Bhante G (Rev Henepola Gunaratana). In it, Bhante G. “lays bare the often-surprising ups and downs of his seventy-five years, from his boyhood in Sri Lanka to his decades of sharing the insights of the Buddha, telling his story with the “plain-English” approach for which he is so renowned.”