Re: Theos-World The Five Sacred Colors
Jan 05, 2006 04:06 PM
The 5 colored flag preceded Olcutt in Tibet by some thousands of years:
Vajrayana Buddhism divides the phenomenal and psycho-cosmic world into five
basic energies. In our physical world these manifest as earth, water, fire,
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
For a horizontal display the order can go either from right to left or from
According to the Nyingma School (Ancient Ones) the color element
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
which comprise a large majority of the flags we see today.
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
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
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
his powerful mantra OM AH HUNG VAJRA GURU PADMA SIDDHI HUNG.
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
Other prayer flag categories are too numerous to describe in this article but
of the more popular designs are listed as follows: Avalokiteshvara –
of Compassion, The Warrior-King Gesar, The White Umbrella for Protection, the
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
so sets are always in multiples of 5. Pole flags are either a single solid
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
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
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).
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
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
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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