The meaning of Prayer Flags

The meaning of Prayer Flags

Prayer flags are beautiful and calming to look at, they bring peace and prosperity to all around them. Prayers, mantras and symbols are printed on the flags so that they may be scattered about by the wind blowing through the flags. Here is some information on these beautiful pieces of cloth.

The symbols

There are two different types of prayer flags. ‘lungta’ and ‘darchor’. Lungta means ‘wind horse’ and is a string of different pieces of coloured square or rectangular cloth. These strings of cloth is then hung at monasteries, stupas and rocks on mountain passes. The flags are usually strung as a degree with one side a bit higher than the other.

Lungta flags are usually made from five different colours, each representing an element or energy and an aspect of the enlightened mind. It is believed that everything in the physical world is made up of these five elements. The order of the colours are always as follows: yellow which represents earth, green which represents water, red which represents fire, white which represents wind or air and blue which represents the sky or space. When hung vertically yellow should be at the bottom with blue at the top. Each of the colours are used to balance the five elements and bring harmony.

The flags are strung in the open air where the wind will blow the good wishes like peace, strength, compassion and wisdom to all the people.

Darchor flags is a rectangular cloth that hangs vertically, attached by its longest side to a pole. Darchor flags carry wishes of longevity, fortune, health, and money on the wind.

The texts on prayer flags are mantras, sutras and prayers. A mantra is a syllable, group of syllable or sounds that have the ability to change energy vibrations. They are often repeated as a form of meditation.

One of the most widespread mantras is the bodhisattva of compassion: OM MANI PADME HUNG. On prayer flags this mantra sends blessings of compassion to the six worldly realms.

Sutras are texts of prose based on the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha who taught in India 2500 years ago. While sutras usually has long, medium and short versions, it is the short and medium versions that are usually printed on prayer flags. One such version is the dharani which contain combinations of syllables that have symbolic meaning that convey the focus of a teaching or induce a certain state of mind.

Most other text on the flags are requests, hopes/desires and blessings written by historical teachers of Mahayana Buddhism.

Many symbols can be seen on prayer flags. One common symbol is The Wind Horse- carrying the “Wish Fulfilling Jewel of Enlightenment”. It represents good fortune, enriching life force energies and opportunities that bring good fortune. 

There are also the Eight Auspicious Symbols:

The Parasol – for protection from the evil eye.

The Golden Fish- for happiness and beings saved from the sea of suffering.

The Treasure Vase – the sign for fulfilment of spiritual and material wishes.

The Lotus – a symbol of spiritual growth and purity.

The Conch Shell – declares the teachings of the enlightened ones.

The Endless Knot – for the meditative mind and infinite knowledge of the Buddha.

The Victory Banner – for the victory of wisdom over ignorance and the overcoming of obstacles.

There are many others such as The Dharma Wheel, The Vajra, The Four Dignities and The Seven Precious Possessions of a Monarch.

How to treat your Prayer Flags

Astrology plays a part in choosing the day to hang your flags. If it is hung on a bad day it might bring in bad wishes as long as they are up. Sunny, windy mornings is the best time to hang your flags and it is best to hang them outside where the wind can carry the messages off to everyone around. It is suggested that old prayer flags get taken down and new ones put up after the Tibetan New Year.

Hanging prayer flags around your home or business creates a feeling of harmony, increases the spiritual atmosphere and brings forth the teachings of enlightenment.

When hanging your prayer flags, more benefit from come if you do it with an authentic and altruistic attitude, wishing benefits and happiness to all beings instead of focusing on how it will bless you.

Prayer flags should always be treated with respect as they contain sacred texts and symbols. They should not touch the ground and they should be burned when you want to dispose of them so that the smoke can carry the blessings to heaven.

It is said that prayer flags should not be bought for yourself, rather it should be given as a present. Hang them around your home or business to invite in blessings and happiness for everyone around.

*A version of this article first appeared at

Juanita Pienaar

Juanita Pienaar is a citizen of the world, recently settled back down in her home country, South Africa, after spending time traveling and living in Asia and Africa. She has a passionate love affair with the ocean and loves to share that passion by teaching scuba diving. She is a yoga teacher and fully believe in finding the balance in life. She has recently discovered the joy and freedom of wearing yoga pants ‘out-and-about’. Juanita loses herself in the written and spoken word.

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