The real sister act

Jul 10, 2013, 03:22 IST | Ruchika Kher

She's created waves internationally with soulful renditions of hymns and chants. But Buddhist nun Ani Choying Drolma is much more than a singer. She has taken upon herself to empower other Buddhist nuns. Ruchika Kher caught up with her while in the city to spread her magic at a concert

When you are in the same room as Ani Choying Drolma, it is inevitable that her positive aura doesn’t envelop the air. The self-effacing facet of the
world-renowned Buddhist nun rubbed on us, while she got candid about the different layers of her journey till now, from joining the nunnery to becoming a successful singer and in turn, doing her bit for other nuns.

Ani Choying Drolma
Buddhist nun and musician Ani Choying Drolma. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi

Drolma was born in 1971 in Nepal and at the age of 13, she joined Nagi Gompa, a Buddhist nunnery on Shivapuri mountains on the northern slope of the Kathmandu valley. “Somehow, circumstances were the main cause that led me to join the nunnery. Through my family and the society I got an impression that getting married is something that should not be done.

So the only alternative choice was to become a nun because if you live with a very conservative family then your parents’ decision is the final word. So, I was afraid that someday, my dad might give me away to a man with whom I probably wouldn’t wish to be. At the time, the idea of getting married meant that you have no freedom; you have to live by your husband’s wishes.

These were very scary ideas.” At the nunnery, renowned meditation master, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, supervised Drolma’s education and spiritual training. While there, she harboured a wish to create more opportunities for nuns to study and to develop their own capacities. But due to the lack of financial resources, Drolma couldn’t take a step further.

Ani Choying Drolma

“Our society still seems to be practising patriarchy, where they think that higher academic education for boys is not as important as boys and that kind of air is also prevalent in the monastic world. You will easily find higher academic institutes for monks, but to find the same for nuns is quite rare,” she laments.

However, providence played its part and in 1996 — an American musician Steve Tibbets, who visited the monastery, heard Drolma singing and offered her to record an album. “After the release of the album worldwide, I started receiving invitations to perform in music festivals across America and in European countries.

I got a good amount of money through that, which gave me the realisation and the encouragement to fulfill my wish by establishing a school for nuns,” shares Drolma, who set up Nuns’ Welfare Foundation (NWF) in Nepal and under that the Arya Tara School in the year 2000 for nuns. The school that started with seven students, today, boasts of 75.

However, her path had roadblocks. Drolma recalls the resistance initially. “People didn’t believe in my ideas. They thought I was trying to do something outrageous because a Buddhist nun is expected to be shy, quiet and confined to the monastery, doing her rituals. But I was firm about my decision. I did what I felt was right without getting bogged down by criticism,”  she reveals.

On July 11, 7 pm
At St Andrew’s Auditorium, off Hill Road, Bandra (W).
Call 9820042990
Entry Free (prior registration is required)

The Rahman effect
Ani Choying Drolma recorded a song with composer AR Rahman for his Coke Studio@MTV episode. “Mr Rahman’s music is something that I’ve been enjoying since many years. I admire and appreciate him. To be invited by him to work on one of his projects is a wish fulfilled. It was a great experience.” 

Go to top