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Re: Theos-World The Five Sacred Colors

Jan 05, 2006 04:06 PM
by samblo

The 5 colored flag preceded Olcutt in Tibet by some thousands of years:

>>The Elements
Vajrayana Buddhism divides the phenomenal and psycho-cosmic world into five 
basic energies. In our physical world these manifest as earth, water, fire, 
air and 
space. Our own bodies and everything else in the physical world is composed 
these five basic elements. On a spiritual level these basic energies 
to the 5 Buddha Families and the 5 Wisdoms. Prayer flags reflect this 
comprehensive system through color; each of the 5 colors relates to an 
and an aspect of enlightened mind. It should be noted that there are two 
systems used so there is sometimes confusion about which color corresponds to 
which element. The order of the colors in prayer flag displays remains the 

in both the systems. The color order is always: yellow, green, red, white and 

blue. In a vertical displays the yellow goes at the bottom and the blue at 
the top. 

For a horizontal display the order can go either from right to left or from 
left to 


According to the Nyingma School (Ancient Ones) the color element 

correspondence is:

Blue – space 

White – air (sometimes referred to wind or cloud)

Red – fire

Green – water 

Yellow – earth

The New Translation Schools switch the colors for air and water but keep the 
order of the colors the same. 
Categories of Prayer Flags
Prayer flag types can be divided into about two-dozen categories; half a 
dozen of 
which comprise a large majority of the flags we see today.
Page 6  

Wind Horse (Lung- ta) flags are by far the most common prayer flag, so much 
that many people think that the word lung-ta means prayer flag. Their purpose 

to raise the good fortune energy of the beings in the vicinity of the prayer 

The wind horse, usually in pictorial form, always occupies the center of this 

The outside corners of the flag is always guarded by the four great animals– 

garuda, dragon, tiger and snow lion – either in pictorial form or in written 

The texts on the flags differ; usually a collection of various mantras or a 

sutra. The Victory Banner Sutra (Gyaltsen Semo) is the most popular. 
Victorious Banners are used to overcome obstacles and disturbances. 
Shakyamuni Buddha gave the Victory Banner Sutra to Indra, king of the god 
realm. Indra was instructed to repeat this sutra when going into battle in 
order to 
protect his troops and to assure victory over the demigods. The sutra has 
protective dharanis to overcome obstacles, enemies, malicious forces, 
and disturbances. Victory Banner flags display this sutra along with symbols 
such as the wind horse, the Eight Auspicious Symbols, the Seven Possessions 
of a Monarch and the Union of Opposites. Often there are special mantras 
added to increase harmony, health, wealth and good fortune. 
Health and Longevity Flags usually have a short version of the Buddha’s Long 

Life Sutra along with prayers and mantras for health and long life. Amitayus, 

Buddha of Limitless Life is often in the center of the flag. Two other long 

Deities, White Tara (peace and health) and Vijaya (victorious protection) are 

sometimes included.

The Wish Fulfilling Prayer (Sampa Lhundrup) is a powerful protection prayer 

written by Guru Padmasambhava. It is said to be especially relevant to our 

modern age and is good for raising one’s fortune, protecting against war, 

and natural disasters, as well as overcoming obstacles and quickly attaining 

wishes. These flags often have Guru Rinpoche in the center and repetitions of 


Praise to the 21 Taras was composed by the primordial Buddha Akshobhya. It 
was written into Sanskrit and Urdu by Vajrabushan Archarya and translated 
Tibetan by Atisha in the 11
century. The first 21 Tara prayer flags are attributed 

to him. Tara was born from the compassionate tears of Avalokiteshvara. As he 

shed tears for the countless suffering beings one tear transformed into the 

Savioress Green Tara who then manifested her twenty other forms. The prayer 

to the 21 Taras praises all her manifestations. The flags with this prayer 

depict Green Tara in the center and often conclude with her root mantra OM 

TARE TUTARE TURE SOHA. The purpose of this flag is to spread 

compassionate blessings.

Other prayer flag categories are too numerous to describe in this article but 
a few 

of the more popular designs are listed as follows: Avalokiteshvara – 

of Compassion, The Warrior-King Gesar, The White Umbrella for Protection, the 

Page 7  

Kurukulle Power Flag, Manjushri- Embodiment of Wisdom, Milarepa – the Yogi-

saint, and the Vast Luck Flag. 

Raising Prayer Flags
Prayer flags typically come on ropes to be hung in horizontal displays or 
on long narrow strips of cloth that are tied on vertical poles. Prayer flags 
ropes are printed on 5 different colors of cloth (yellow, green, red, white 
and blue) 
so sets are always in multiples of 5. Pole flags are either a single solid 
color or 
the 5 colors sewn together into one flag. They range in height from about 3ft 

40 ft or more. Pole flags often have colored streamers or “tongues”that are 

imprinted with special increasing mantras meant to increase the power of the 

prayers written on the body of the flag. It is also common to see displays of 

plain white prayer flags on poles erected around monasteries and pilgrimage 


Most of the imported prayer flags are printed on polyester or nylon blends. 

Surprisingly, good quality cotton is hard to find in Nepal and India. 

price differences for prayer flags are often due to the different qualities 
of cloth. 

Tibetans don’t mind the gauzy low thread count cloth (the wind passes through 

easily) but Americans tend to prefer finer quality materials. Synthetics vs. 

is a matter of opinion. Some feel that polyester and nylon are more durable, 

some say they fade faster. Cotton colors tend to be richer and cotton threads 

better for the environment (I frequently see pieces of prayer flags in birds 

around my studio). Radiant Heart Studios print only on high quality cotton or 

high cotton count polyester. Oddly enough it’s difficult to find good quality 

in Nepal and India and what is called 100% cotton often has something else 

mixed in.

Placing prayer flags in and around one’s home or business imparts afeeling 

harmony, increases the spiritual atmosphere and brings to mind the teachings 

enlightenment. By placing prayer flags outdoors their sacred mantras are 

imprinted on the wind, generating peace and good wishes. 

Ropes of prayer flags can be strung horizontally between two trees (the 

the better), between house columns or along the eaves of roofs. Sometimes 

they are strung at angle (be sure that the wind horse points uphill). 
Vertical Pole 

Flags look wonderful in a garden, try a prayer flag “grove”in a breezy area. 

Bamboo works the best for flagpoles but any wood, metal or plastic pole will 


When raising prayer flags proper motivation is important. If they are put up 

the attitude “I will benefit from doing this”– thatis an ego-centered 

and the benefits will be small and narrow. If the attitude is “May all beings 

Page 8  

everywhere receive benefit and find happiness,”the virtue generatedby such 

motivation greatly increases the power of the prayers.

Tibetan tradition considers prayer flags to be holy. Because of they contain 

sacred texts and symbols they should be treated respectfully. They should not 

placed on the ground or put in the trash. When disposing of old prayer flags 

traditional way is to burn them so that the smoke may carry their blessings 
to the 


If you have any information or stories to share about prayer flags we at 

Heart Studios would love to hear from you. We collect images of prayer flags 

you have any you’d like to donate to our archives. Our collection of 

Tibetan prayer flags from Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal and India is growing and we 
always interested in obtaining especially nice woodblock prints from people 
traveling to those places.
Written by Timothy Clark in the 8
month of the Water Horse year at Redway, CA 
Copyright Radiant Heart Studio. If you would like to reproduce <<


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