Patience and Presence

Cooper Padilla

During our time at Sri Ram Ashram, we were introduced to a prayer tradition called Arati. Arati is performed and celebrated by the Ashram kids every night before dinner, but it extends beyond just the Sri Ram Ashram; it’s a part of Hindu culture. Arati entails a ritual of devotional singing and prayer towards Hindu deities. It is a time of passionate praise and worship, vastly different from what I have witnessed in Western culture. Observing the kids treat Arati with such respect and focus was inspiring. Children ranging from around ages three to eighteen come together selflessly to devote themselves to a higher purpose. Despite my expectations based on experiences in the West, I was mistaken in anticipating misbehavior and distractions among the children.

Arati is performed before a shrine holding various Hindu statues and pictures, along with a flame lit in praise of the deities. However, it’s the rhythm and melody of the Arati songs that moved me the most. I was taken aback when the drumming for Arati began. Initially, I had seen very young children holding drums, and I hadn’t expected much rhythmic competence. I anticipated a simple four-beat rhythm, similar to clapping along with a song. However, the young musicians demonstrated a unique rhythm with specific emphasis, transitioning from a four-beat to a seven-beat time signature seamlessly. This amazed me, as Western music rarely incorporates such exotic time signatures. Even very experienced musicians I have met would struggle with this concept. To the children, however, it was second nature. The drummers interacted with each other, playing separate parts at times, thus creating a more diverse rhythmic structure. Then, in unison, they would completely change the rhythm as required by the Arati song. As I attended Arati more frequently, I noticed that most of the kids could participate in the drumming with a sufficient level of understanding. Initially surprising, I later realized that since they had Arati every day, this proficiency was understandable. It was beautiful to see how the children absorbed this rhythmic feel at such a young age, much like learning a language through immersion.

Another aspect that amazed me was their patience, particularly during a call-and-response section of the song led by one of the older kids. The phrase was sung, and then it was up to everybody else to repeat it rhythmically. Initially, my classmates and I rushed the beat, a common issue among American musicians, especially younger ones. However, the children from the ashram repeated back slowly and meticulously, without any sense of urgency, perfectly in time with one another and relaxed in their execution. While I’m uncertain why they possess this rhythmic acuity, I’m inclined to attribute it to their presence in the moment, something that the United States is known to lack.

These experiences have altered my perspective on music and how I intend to conduct myself as a musician in the future. Patience and presence are key.

Beatrice Miller

Once a year, a group of bright-eyed seniors spend a brief week at Sri Ram Ashram. It’s a week of close-knit meals, friendly playtime competition, and comforting Aarti evenings. The memories made at the ashram impact these twelfth graders lives forever, marking their time in India with joyful energy, and then they leave.

Now, as it is my turn to experience this journey to Sri Ram, I try to remember the reality of the people who live at this orphanage. They grow up in the magical world that I only have the privilege to visit. They have not one, but three mothers. Each woman who is dedicated to loving these children and ensuring they know they are cared for. They have a village of friends, siblings even, with whom they grow up. The ashram is more than just a week out of my India trip; it’s the chance to meet a whole family. A chance for me to make connections so that I may bond with girls my age, a few days to learn about their interests, habits, and games, and to become their Didi (which means older sister in Hindi) and hold their hand all day long. I don’t have any sisters, yet now I have so many little ones. Little sisters, even brothers, who have come from all walks of life. They have written me letters and woven beautiful little bracelets for me to wear, tokens of their love and appreciation for how much my time means to them. I wish I could stay longer at my home away from home.