Tibetan prayer flags

Teej festival - Pashipatinath nabij Kathmandu

Tibetan prayer flags

PRAYER FLAG, And the Tibetan Trinity

Prayer flags are inscribed with auspicious symbols, prayers and mantras.  Tibetan Buddhists for centuries have planted these flags outside their homes and places of spiritual practice for the wind to carry the beneficent vibrations across the countryside.  Prayer flags are said to bring happiness, long life and prosperity to the flag planter and those in the vicinity.

Traditional Tibetan prayer flags are colorful squares of fabric with Buddhist symbols and sutras printed on them.  According to ancient Tibetan-Himalayan tradition, as wind drives the flags, prayers are unleashed to the heavens, carried by Wind-Horse.  As the square flags’ edges start to fray and the vivid colors begin to fade, all the prayers are said to be released.  These flags are stung together and hung outside temples and homes.  They may be placed either inside building to increase the spiritual atmosphere or outdoors where the wind can carry the sacred prayers.  Traditionally, they are fastened or sewn onto ropes to be displayed horizontally or fastened to wooden poles fir vertical display.

There are two kinds of prayer flags, the horizontal ones are called Lungta in Tibetan and the vertical once Darchor.  A typical prayer flag has at its central image a horse bearing three flaming jewels on its back.  This horse is known as “Wind-Horse” which lends the flags their Tibetan name, ‘lung-ta’.  The three jewels symbolize Buddha, Buddhist teachings and Buddhist community.  These altogether make up the equivalent of Tibetan trinity.  Traditionally five different colors are used in the prayer flags which represent five elements, or five different postures of Buddha: space (blue), water (white), fire (red), air (green) and earth (yellow).  Sets of five color flags should be put in the order of yellow, green, red, white, blue (from left to right or from bottom to top); the blue color should be on top as it represents sky.  The colors represent five different elements namely, earth, water, fire, cloud, sky.  These five colors also represent five directions, five wisdoms, five meditative Buddhas and five mental attributes. On the four comes of the flags are images of Garuda, Dragon, Tiger and Snow Lion which are the four sacred animals representing four virtues of wisdom, power, confidence and fearless joy respectively.  Around the horse are 20-odd matras-powerful ritual utterances – each dedicated to a particular deity.

Prayer flags are printed from wooden blocks on to colored cotton or polyester.  The flags are usually renewed each Tibetan New Year.  Tibetan pilgrims carry strings of flags with them to adorn the sacred sites they visit.  The prayer is written in Tibetan and always expresses positive intentions for the happiness, enlightenment and protection of all beings.  Everyone revere these flags since it is attractive and express generosity and heartfelt love for strength.  It protects against dangers and negative forces.  It helps to overcome obstacles, increase prosperity and long life and promote peace and harmony among all living beings.  It contains prayers as aspirations for all beings.  It is believed that as the wind passes over the surface of the flag, the air becomes purified and sanctified by the mantras.  In fortune of the person who erects the flags.  However if the flags are hung on the wrong astrological dates, they will bring negative results and greater obstacles will arise as time passes by.  These flags are also very affordable however the cost depends on the fabric, print and size that one chooses.

Prayer flags are excellent for display at weddings, birthday, shrines, holy sites, home etc.  They may be hung across gateways, along pathways, above doorways, from house to tree anyplace where wind and prayer may meet.  Prayer flags last from 2-5 years when displayed outdoors depending upon weather, exposure to the sun and moisture content in the air.  The element which causes greatest decay is ultraviolet light.

Those printed on cotton will fade faster than in polyester.  If anyone wishes to dispose of the flags, it should be burnt as they are sacred.  These prayer flags are designed to fade and to disintegrate overtime to symbolize that all life fades and disintegrated and is renewed by other life.  By renewing prayer flags we acknowledge and welcome that life is not stable but it changes.  These flags are colorful reminders of truth of life that we are here with this precious life for some time only.


keyterms: Tibet, prayer flags, Tibetan, Himalayan, tradition, holy sites, Nepal


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