Photographer Andrew Stanbrige attends the Taungbyone Nat Festival in Burma, where ladyboys reenact the lives of two brothers slain centuries ago.

During the Bagan Dynasty nearly two centuries ago, as King Anawrahtha was returning from war against the Chinese, he rested at the village of Taungbyone. To mark his arrival, he commanded that a pagoda should be built, and that all his followers contribute one brick. Everyone participated except for his two favorite boys, whom he had taken in when they lost their father years earlier. They were so busy partying and drinking that they simply forgot, so there were two empty spaces where their tribute-bricks should have been. Upon hearing of the lapse, jealous court officials saw it as an opportunity to kill the boys. In the afterlife, they became venerated nats (spirits).

Every August, people travel to the village on the outskirts of Mandalay to pay respect to the two nats, hoping it will bring them good fortune. It is an unusual religious event, to say the least—the hard-partying boys are portrayed by whisky-swilling, cigarette smoking ladyboys who become the life of the party. Last year, photographer Andrew Stanbridge was there. And though he got a lot of whisky poured down his throat (not many foreigners attend the Taungbyone Nat Festival, so he became part of the spectacle himself), he came back with this beautiful photo essay. —Pauline Eiferman

People from all over Burma attend the festival. The single lane road makes traffic atrocious.
Due to the horrific traffic jams, the party starts early on the road.
Inside the festival, a woman sells beetle nut, a popular stimulant in Burma.
Every strata of Burmese society seems to be present. Here, a monk exits a portable photo studio.
A lady boy poses at the popular photo studio.
Many of the festival attendees are katoeys, the local word used for lady boys.
A group of katoeys waits for one of the nat performances to begin.
A performer has the finishing touches put on to her costume.
Two katoeys who perform as the spirit brothers that the festival honors.
Throughout the performance the katoeys, taken over by the spirits, consume copious amounts of alcohol and cigarettes.
The more popular performers bring in hundreds of audience members.
Performers throw small denomination bills into the crowds for good fortune.
Some families stay at the festival through the entire week, renting small bamboo shelters that they adorn with photos of their favorite nat performers.