Background of the Prayer Flags
Those flaps in the air suffice to feel our culture. Tibetan prayer flags are the thumbnail of Buddhist culture; they flutter free with the wind high in the sky. It is a strong belief for these bring goodwill, prosperity, and peace. Prayer flags are seen strung on the trails towards Gumbas and peaks high in the Himalayas. These reverential flags emit blessings and compassion among beings.
History of the Prayer Flags
Long-time back, in Lord Buddha’s prayers and teachings were printed in the battle flags which were used by deities against the adversaries. Later, various modifications finally shaped this prayer flag which we see at present. It was also mentioned to be discarded during the Cultural Revolution but was not totally eliminated. These colorful, rectangle-shaped cloth pieces, traditionally included prayer texts and images from woodblock-prints. Many traditional designs have lost by now.
Color and order of the Prayer Flags
Specifically, there are five colors in a sequence which is not to be shuffled. Five colors blue, white, red, green, and yellow represent five elements.
- Blue symbolizes sky and space,
- White for air and wind,
- Red for fire,
- Green as water and finally
- Yellow as the earth.
These five elements are revered for different rituals and purposes in our culture. Balancing these five elements bring good health and harmony in our lives.
Symbol and Images in the Prayer Flags
The flag has the image of a wind horse having three significant jewels on its back. The three jewels symbolize the Buddha, His teachings and the Buddhist community (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha respectively). This symbolizes speed. It also symbolizes the transformation of bad to good fortune.
The scriptures surrounding the image of the wind horse are hundreds of traditional mantras. Each of these reveres different deities. The mantras are written down from mainly three Buddhist Bodhisattvas –Padmasambhava, Avalokitesvara, and Manjusri.
In four corners of the flag remains the image of four strong animals –the dragon, the Garuda, the tiger, and the snowlion. These are Four Dignities in Tibetan Culture. These four animals are known for their fury, strength, and capacity.
Styles of Prayer Flags
You find the flags hung in two different styles in the Tibetan region and other stupa premises. One you see hung from one end to the other end horizontally. The other is the vertical way, flags hung in a pole. They are named as rLung rta (pronounced long ta) and Darchog.
rLung rta means Wind Horse in Tibetan culture. These come in square or rectangle shapes. They are attached to string by the top (head of the script written being a top). Diagonally hung from low to high end, one being a rock and the other being the top of the stupas, these prayer flags look beautiful in the temples, stupas, monasteries and mountain passes.
These are large, single rectangular flags. They are vertically attached to a pole standing on the ground or cairns. These also, alike Lung ta, stand proud in all stupa arenas.
How to Hang the Prayer Flags
One must have positive and selfless feelings when thinking of raising the flags. ‘Yad Bhaavam Tad Bhavati’, in Sanskrit means as is your inner thoughts so is the manifestations. Hence, it is very essential for one to have strong motivation while hanging the prayer flags.
People love to hang miniature of the prayer flags in their rooms. Its presence soothes their disturbed mind and purifies their thoughts. These are seen in the study table, above the bed or on the wall. These flags are also hung as an accessory in the motorbikes, cars, etc. People following Buddhism have these Darchog on the terrace of their houses or in front of the house in their compound.
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Auspicious Time to Hang Prayer Flags
In general, Mondays and Fridays are considered auspicious days to hang the flags. When hung on auspicious moments, the benefit tends to multiply and expand. Prosperity ensues when hung in Full moon day or New moon day.
Eclipses are important days to raise the flags. The benefit multiplies 100 million times in solar eclipse and 7 million times in lunar eclipse.
You can find authentic auspicious dates to hang the prayer flags in specific calendars.
However, rather than the auspicious, special dates, according to the great lamas, one must essentially have pure intentions and positive motivation. Wishing good for all well-being makes the auspicious moment to hang the flags.
Inauspicious Time to Hang Prayer Flags
Nevertheless, there are some inauspicious times to hang these flags. In Tibetan culture, certain days are mentioned possessing ‘Baden entity’. Baden Senpo is assumed as a demon in this culture. So, when this negative energy is active it brings highly negative energy in the flags also when hung in these days. And it is said that the harsh energy remains until the flags deteriorate.
Hence, to know the inauspicious dates one must consult the calendar or even in a deeper level, the astrologer who reads this part of science. For example, July (2019) -11, 24 are the dates mentioned as inauspicious to raise the flags.
Disposing of the Prayer Flags
The flags consist of sacred texts and symbols which should be revered. These flags are not put on the ground or thrown in the trash. They must be burnt cautiously with respectful feelings. They ought not to touch the ground even while being burnt.
They can also be naturally faded and disintegrated. New flags can be hung along with the old ones. This also holds a great reminder of impermanence for all. Impermanence is Buddha’s central teaching.
Bringing the Prayer Flags Down
While bringing down the faded flags it is better not to separate them. The balance of five elements may remain steady until they are disposed of. The smoke, the ashes blend in the air spreading the bliss and peace everywhere.
You must be aware of cotton flags burning. Synthetic flags are supposed to be buried as burning plastic cause bad health and ruin atmosphere.
The flags should not be used in other works or put with other clothing once they are old and faded. They must only be directly disposed of.
People have a misconception of the flags carrying the prayers to their demigods. Rather, Tibetans believe that these flags spread and blow the prayers and mantras to all living beings. The air is purified with the slightest movement of the flags.
It is assumed lucky to have a gift from someone. These are gifted as presents or souvenirs from Nepal.