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Tibetan Prayer Flags

  • by Liffity
  • Last Updated: 2021-01-10

When you travel to Tibet, you can see the great number of Buddhists Prayer Flags hung at the summits of mountains, passes of mountains, banks of rivers, sides of roads, roofs of monasteries, etc. But do you even know that these are not just some fancy accessory? Everything from the color to word holds a meaning. Originated from Bon culture, the prayer flags, namely Longda in the Tibetan language, which primarily carry our prayers via the wind to get them answered.

Prayer flags can be seen in Tibet here and there.

Prayer flags hanging at the top of the mountains.

Well, you may be curious about the meaning of the Buddhist/Tibetan prayer flags. Here are 10 things you should know:

1. The origin of the prayer flag

The reason why those streamers are known as prayer flags is that there are numerous Buddhism sutras printed on them. In Buddhism believers’ eyes, the prayer flag waves for one time in the wind means reciting the lection once, which is a way to show pilgrims’ wishes and seek blessings from God. Therefore, the prayer flag has become a link between God and man. According to Tibetan Buddhism, where there is the prayer flag, there are God and wishes.

2. Features of prayer flag

With varies kinds of shapes and lengths, prayer flags are also in different types of patterns. Among the innumerable prayer flags, the biggest one can be extended to three~five meters long and sixty centimeters wide. Those long prayer flags with Buddhism sutras and wild animals patterns are always hung on the flagstaffs in front of the squares and monasteries. While those short square-like prayer flags with blue, white, red, green, and yellow colors are always tied with a rope hanging at the desolate mountain passes. Prayer flags combined with five colorful strips and a monochronic flag without Buddhism sutras are always hung on the roofs of buildings.

3. Each color of the flag symbolizes an element

The prayer flag is also known as Longda in the Tibetan language. Made by the cotton cloth, yarn of ramie, silk and so on, those oblong-shaped prayer flags are combines with five different colors, blue, white, red, green and yellow. Each color on these flags are not just for good looks, but these colors symbolize an element. White color symbolizes cloud, red is fire, green is water, yellow is earth, and blue is the sky. These colors also represent directions - North, South, East, West, and Centre.

According to Tibetan Buddhism, those five colors are related to the five Buddhas and five kinds of wisdom, which increases the mysterious of Tibetan prayer flags. Some scholars even regard that the colorized prayer flags have been integrated with traditional Chinese Theory of Five Elements, which stand for Metal, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth.

Different colors stand for different meanings.

All five colors together signify balance.

4. The flags don't carry mantras to God

This is a widespread misconception that people think that the mantra printed on these flags take them to God. But instead, the mantras printed on the flags are carried on the wind and believed to spread goodwill and positive energy wherever they go.

Om- The sacred syllable

Mani- Jewel

Padme- Lotus

Hum- Spirit of enlightenment

This mantra does not have one particular meaning. It’s a combination of values like compassion, ethics, patience, diligence, renunciation, and wisdom. It is said that if you recite the mantra during meditation, it can cure pride, jealousy, ignorance, greed, and aggression.

5. They should never be kept on the ground

It is considered disrespectful if the Buddhist prayer flags touch the ground. Therefore, they should be hung at a height. Around the frame of the doorway is regarded as the right place to put the flags.

6. They should never be still

It is considered disrespectful too if the Buddhist flags lay down on the ground or are still. The reason why they are put high above the roof is that they flutter in the wind. It is said that they emit positive spiritual vibrations and the wind like silent prayers carries the prayers.

So, next time if you want to hang them somewhere, make sure that they’re on a height.

7. There are two kinds of flags- horizontal and vertical

While the square-shaped, horizontally strung prayer flags are arguably the most common, they aren't the only variety of Tibetan prayer flag you'll see being used at sacred sites and on significant calendar dates. Those flags are called lung dar prayer flags. Flags that fly vertically, which are less common, are known as dar Cho or dar Chen flags.

Prayer flags play an important role in Tibetan lives.

Vertical flags at the lakeside.

8. It's a good omen to receive Buddhists prayer flags as a gift

Well, getting these prayer flags as a gift from someone is considered as a good omen. So, instead of buying it, getting these flags as a gift from someone is how you should acquire a prayer flag.

Therefore, taking prayer flags to your friend after your visiting in Tibet is the right thing to do.

9. Color fading of these flags also has a meaning

Fading of the colors on these flags means that the prayers were carried by the breeze. Color fading from the flags is considered auspicious.

10. The auspicious time to put up a flag is during the Chinese New Year

The best and auspicious time to put up these flags is during the Chinese New Year and if you gather your family and well-wishers while doing so, the flags then are said to have a positive impact on your life.

So, these are some things which you should know about Buddhists prayers flags before hanging them up.

Based on the document and materials, prayer flag was given birth by Tibetan ancestors at the rite of worshipping the Mountain God. With all kinds of Buddhism sutras and wild animals patterns, a prayer flag is a part of Tibetan traditional Bon and Buddhism culture. Influenced by other excellent ethnic cultures, a prayer flag has shaped its unique features and plays an important role in Tibetan lives and cultures.

With hundreds of years' history, hanging prayer flag has become a traditional custom in Tibetan regions, which is a self-cultivation way. They believe that God will help those who hang prayer flags.

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