The Buddhist prayer flags flapping in time with the wind can be seen on any Nepali mountaintop and on stupas, monasteries, and hiking trails. Have you ever thought about what the flags represent or what they mean?
The history of the Buddhist prayer flag tradition spans periods in ancient Tibet, China, Persia, and India. The custom has now made its way to the West and is quickly growing in favour. The most profound ideas of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy serve as the foundation for the texts and symbols on prayer flags and the entire notion of prayer flags.
A vibrant rectangular cloth known as a Buddhist prayer flag is frequently seen hanging from peaks and paths high in the Himalayas. They are used for various purposes, including blessing the area’s countryside. Bon is thought to have invented prayer flags. Tibetan shamans, known as Bonpo, used plain flags with bright primary colours. The wording and artwork on traditional prayer flags are printed using woodblocks.
Tibetans and other Buddhists believe that the phrases printed on the cloth spread kindness and benevolence throughout the universe. It’s essential to expel negative vibes. These tiny, vibrant banners represent the spreading of wisdom, compassion, peace, and strength. It is believed that the more the wind beats the flag, the more blessings it sends out to many people.
The prayer flags and the pictures and prayers on them eventually fade and disappear into the air and the cosmos with the passage of time and as a result of rain, wind, and sunlight. The cycle of life continues. The old prayer flags are continually replaced with new ones. It stands for the ongoing confirmation of our dreams for the world and humanity, as well as the never-ending circle of life that all living things, including humans, are a part of.
Types of Buddhist Prayer Flags
The Buddhist Prayer flags are in two varieties:
- Horizontal Flags: These are known as Lung ta (Wylie: rlung-rta, meaning “Wind Horse”), and vertical ones are known as Darchog (Wylie: dar-lcog, meaning “flagstaff”). Lung ta (horizontal) prayer flags are square or rectangular and are attached to a long rope or thread at their upper edges. Roofs of stupas, stupas, monasteries, and mountain passes are examples of high places that are typically suspended on a diagonal line between two objects (for example, rock and the top of a pole).
- Vertical Flags: They are called “Darchog”. Large single rectangles with poles affixed along their vertical edge serve as darchog (vertical) prayer flags. The Dhvaja are associated iconographically and symbolically with darchog, frequently planted in the ground, mountains, cairns, and rooftops.
Buddhist Prayer Flags: Colour Meanings
According to Buddhism, five factors make up everything in the world (Sky, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth). These various flag colours serve as a symbolic representation of these components. Prayer flags are decorated with auspicious symbols and invocations in addition to the five essential elements.
The five colours that make up the Chinese theory’s Five Elements are traditionally represented by sets of five prayer flags, one in each colour. Blue, white, red, green, and yellow are the five colours in a precise order from left to right. The five hues stand for the Five Pure Lights and the five elements.
For particular customs, uses, and sadhanas, distinct aspects are connected to various hues. White stands for the air and wind, red for fire, green for water, and yellow for the earth. Blue represents the sky and space. Traditional Tibetan medicine holds that a five-element balance is what creates wellbeing and peaceful coexistence.
Also see: 10 interesting facts about Handicrafts of Nepal
Buddhist Prayer Flags: Symbols, Tradition, and Prayers
Traditionally, a Lung ta (strong or powerful horse) with three flaming jewels (more specifically, Ratna) on its back sits at the centre of a prayer flag.
The Ta represents swiftness and the turnaround of unfavourable circumstances into favourable ones. The three burning jewels represent the three pillars of Tibetan philosophical tradition: the Buddha, the Dharma (Buddhist teachings), and the Sangha.
Across 400 traditional chants, each dedicated to a different deity, are scattered around the Lung ta. Three of the most revered Buddhist Bodhisattvas—Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), Avalokitesvara (Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion and the protector of the Tibetan people), and Manjusri—have left their mantras in these works.
Each corner of a flag is embellished with representations or the names of the four strong animals known as the Four Dignities: the dragon, the garuda, the tiger, and the snow lion. The phrase “OM MANI PADME HUM” is said where, OM refers to your filthy body, speech, and thinking. MANI, which translates to “diamond,” describes the three pillars of the method: love, compassion, and the selfless desire for enlightenment. PADME, which means lotus and represents knowledge. The root syllable of Akshobhya is HUM, which stands for the unmovable, the unchanging, and it cannot be ever disturbed.
In contrast to the mantras, prayers for a long and healthy life of good fortune for the person mounting the flags are frequently included. Tradition dictates that prayer flags should be handled with reverence because their symbols and chants are considered sacred. They shouldn’t be applied to garments or the ground. Burn old prayer flags, please.
Things to remember
- If you think that all of these flags will remain there for a very long time, you’re wrong. The new ones take the place of the old prayer flags on the third day of Lhosar, the Tibetan New Year. In addition, it is altered on noteworthy events like Buddha Jayanti. These flags may not be worn or discarded because they are made of sacred literature. These outdated prayer flags are typically burned as a sign of respect and to transmit prayers to the skies in Tibetan culture. This could represent a form of racial privilege. These flags primarily benefit the entire world, not just those who install them.
- Nowadays, purchasing a Tibetan prayer flag from a store or online is very simple. However, just buying a prayer flag does not have a religious connotation. Before they may be given spirituality or sanctity in religious rites, they must be blessed by monks (lamas), and only then can they be useful.
- To hang the prayer flags, you don’t need to be a Buddhist, but you do need to have good intentions. The effectiveness of prayers is increased when one has a good, optimistic attitude rather than a self-centred one that says, “I will benefit from this,” or “May all sentient beings benefit and experience bliss.”
See More: Best Dhaka Products to buy in Nepal