Like a prayer: Nepal "singing nun" wins fans

By Gopal Sharma, Reuters, Mar 18, 2008

PHARPING, Nepal -- Rather than just relying on prayer, a Buddhist nun is using her voice to help needy Nepalis in one of the world's poorest countries.

Ani Choying Dolma, a 37-year-old Tibetan-Nepali known as Nepal's "singing nun", has soared to global fame with her eight albums of Tibetan and Sanskrit meditation songs.

She has performed more than 50 concerts in Europe, Asia and the United States, and more are lined up for this year in Germany.

"I am what I am, a nun or a singer," said Dolma, her hair cut very short, and wearing a golden watch.

The income has helped Dolma build the Arya Tara School, which has 58 students drawn from poor Nepali families. including some from neighboring India and Tibet. They study Buddhist philosophy, Tibetan language, English and mathematics.

Young nuns also learn the art of Thanka wall painting.

Dressed in a burgundy T-shirt and a maroon lungi, Dolma sipped tea under the fluttering prayer flags by her religious school.

Dozens of young nuns wearing saffron singlets looked from the balconies of the five-storied white-and-red brick house that she helped build.

"I can't be separated," she said. "Everything comes in a package."

Estranged from her sculptor father, Dolma entered a nunnery at the age of 13. She was later advised to sing by an American musician who was impressed when she hummed tunes.

"Till the day I went to the stage I did not think I will be a singer," she said.

But since her debut in 1998, Dolma has never turned back.

Dolma said tragic love songs were not her forte and she never sang to entertain.

"It was very much my meditation practice ... and it is all done with my heart," she later told Reuters in the serene hilltop school 20 km (12 miles) south of Kathmandu, over a meal of boiled rice, cabbage and potatoes.

"I sing with proper respect and devotion."

Dolma wants to set up a kidney transplantation hospital in Kathmandu in the memory of her mother, who died of kidney problems.

She also longs for peace in Nepal, which is just emerging from a decade-long Maoist civil war and years of political unrest.

"My next wish, a desperate wish, is to see this country in peace," an emotional Dolma said.

"If I wish for something it is just a matter of time," she said. "Wishes are very powerful."

(Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Sophie Hardach)