Colourful prayer flags (dhar) are one of the most prominent features of Bhutan. The Buddhist prayer flags can be seen fluttering across the Kingdom. They are considered sacred and holy and should be treated with the utmost respect. On a trip to Bhutan, one is likely to notice colourful prayer flags fluttering throughout the countryside. From mountain passes, bridges, monasteries, stupas, temples, to mountain peaks and homes, one is greeted by sacred prayer flags everywhere he or she goes. Besides being a source of beauty and vibrancy in the Kingdom, these flags also hold significant religious and cultural significance. The prayer flags are made from block-printed fabric using centuries-old printing processes. They are imbued with auspicious and religious symbols or mantras. Each style of prayer flag has a unique meaning and benefit. Not only the person who mounts the flag will benefit from the karma carried by the wind, but all sentient beings will as well.
Why do the Bhutanese fly prayer flags?
Regarded as good deeds for Buddhists in Bhutan and Tibet, not only is the sound of prayer flags fluttering in the breeze unexpectedly relaxing but it is also believed that these mantras will be carried in the air by the wind, spreading spirituality and goodwill in the area.
It’s worth noting that when the color of a prayer flag fades, it’s thought to be a positive omen. This represents the prayers being taken away, causing the colors to fade. They are hoisted with a bundle of hopes and serve as a source of peace and comfort for the inhabitants.
The different types of Prayer Flags and their meaning
Bhutanese people generally fly prayer flags to hope for happiness, long life, good fortune, to fulfil one’s wishes and desires, to amass merit, and to bestow karmic merit on all beings. Offering prayer flags after death is thought to direct the soul of the deceased from the netherworld and prevent it from being reborn in the six life cycles’ three lower worlds (Nge Song Sum: animals, pet, and life in hell): Lha (god), Lha Min (demi-god), humans, animals, pet, and life in hell.
Raising a prayer flag necessitates a positive mindset and pure intention. Don’t forget your motivation when raising the flag; you want to ensure the happiness of all sentient beings.
Bhutanese prayer flags come in five colours: white, blue, red, green, and yellow. The five colours represent the five basic elements of nature: earth, fire, water, air and sky. They can also represent the five basic emotions (joy, fear, sadness, disgust and anger) and the five directions (east, north, west, south and centre).
Meaning of the different prayer flag's colour:
- White (air) – Good fortune and purifying negative karma (Vajrasattva)
- Blue (sky/space) – Health and longevity (Tsa La Nam Sum)
- Yellow (earth) – Victory over obstacles (Gyaltsan Semo)
- Green (water) – Compassion (Praise to the 21 Taras)
- Red (fire) – Wish fulfillment (Sampa Lundrup)
Types of prayer flags that found in Bhutan:
Lungdhar is a colourful rectangle or square flag that is hung with a string horizontally or diagonally. It’s frequently hung on ropes or hoisted on wooden poles. The flags’ top edges are joined together. Lungdhars come in many colors and are found throughout Bhutan.
Dachog, or Darshing as it is known locally, are tall vertical flags that are attached to poles and placed in the ground. They’re most typically seen in mountainous and forested areas.
In remembrance of the dead, Manidhar prayer flags are staked after a death. Buddhists believe that there are blessings from hoisting 108 (an auspicious number) of Manidhar prayer flags. One Manidhar prayer flag is just as good.
The Lhadhar is a tall vertical flag that contains no text and usually has ribbons of red, yellow, and blue. The Lhadhar usually flies in front of important places such as monasteries and palaces. Visitors must dress formally when entering these places. The Lhadhar represents victory over the evil forces and is commonly inscribed with the four mythical animals: tiger, snow lion, dragon, and Garuda (celestial royal bird).
The Goendhar is a white rectangular prayer flag placed in the center of a traditional Bhutanese home’s rooftop. Its four edges are decorated with green, red, yellow and blue ribbons. These flags are blessings for the family’s well-being and wealth.
6. Gyeltshen Tsemo (Banner of Victory)
Gyeltshen Tsemo is a cylindrical banner with mantras printed on it. It is inscribed with Tashi Tagye (eight auspicious signs) that are used in ritual and religious processing. Sometimes, it can also be seen at archery matches to proclaim victory after the match.
Symbols, mantras, and prayers
Traditionally, the center of the flag carries the symbol of Lung-Ta (wind horse) bearing three jewels on its back. The three flaming jewels represents the Buddha, the Dharma (Buddhist teachings), and the Sangha (Buddhist community). The wind horse is surrounded by the four powerful animals also known as the Four Dignities: tiger, snow lion, garuda (celestial royal bird), and dragon.
Each Lung Ta is surrounded by 400 traditional mantras, each of which is dedicated to a different deity. In addition to mantras,prayers for long life and good fortune for the person hoisting the flag.
Sometimes, the prayer tag Om Mani Pae Mey Hun (or Om Mani Padme Hum), a popular ancient Buddhist mantra is also inscribed on the flags.
Om- The sacred syllable
Padme – Lotus
Hum – Spirit of enlightenment