Prayer flags, in various size and colors, are hoisted in Bhutan. Prayer flags are lifted and flung on hills, cliffs, bridges, roof of the houses; along the path and bank of rivers. Some are hoisted in front of the Dzongs, monasteries, temple, palaces and government offices.
Not all flags carry prayers. Some flags are a piece of white rectangular cloth. At least, five kinds of prayer flags hoisted in Bhutan excluding the National Flag.
1. Lungdhar flag
Prayer flags raised on wooden poles or flung on ropes, in different color, are called Lungdhar. This kind is the most common prayer flag in Bhutan. Flags, either white or in colors, carry symbol of Lungta, the wind horse.
The wind horse is a traditional symbol that is believed to increases fortune of people. The Horse in the center of foliate is surrounded by four animals: Tiger, Lion, Garuda and Dragon.
Five colors of flags
According to astrology, humans and their consciousness are linked with Five Elements. Five elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Iron and Water. And colors represent Elements.
1. Wood: Green
2. Fire: Red
3. Earth: Yellow
4. Iron: White
5. Water: Blue
Therefore, the colors are chosen according to the individual’s Element. But it’s not really necessary. As long as the flag carries the wind horse, the purpose will be served.
Places to hoist flags
Lungdhar are usually hoisted and flung on hills and passes where wind blows. The wind carries the wind horse and thereby, increasing the fortune. This is also to equate the fortune with height the hill.
Lungdhar hoisted along the rivers is to match fortune with the river’s length.
2. Lhadhar flag
Prayer flag raised on a large, tall pole in front of door of Dzongs, monasteries and temples is called Lhadar. It means the Flag of God and hoisted alone.
Lhadar is also erected in front of the Royal Palaces and important lamas’ residence. Some government offices have also started hoisting Lhadar.
Like lungdhar, this flag can be either white or in colors, and carries the wind horse symbol.
This kind of prayer flag symbolizes overcoming evil forces with fortune. And therefore, has the victory banner at its tip. Such flags are the biggest and tallest.
3. Prayer flag
Prayers flags hoisted on the hills, along the river or anywhere in huge numbers actually do carry prayers. Such flags carry prayers of Avaloketeshvara, Tara, Guru Rinpochey and other Gods.
Prayer on flags cleanses sins accumulated, and delivers sentient beings suffering in the intermediate state when prayers are received through wind.
Such prayer flags, hoisted for the sake of dead, are usually 108 in number. To cleanse sins of living person, the number of flags are indefinite.
Such prayers flags have a dagger and a wheel at their tip. The dagger symbolizes Manjushri, wheel symbolizes Avaloketeshvara and wooden pole signifies Vajrapani.
The flags can be of any color but the most common is white.
4. Flag on the roof of house
A small, rectangular white flag is hoisted on the roof of houses during the consecration ceremony of the house. Then on, a fresh flag is hoisted every year during the annual ritual. Such flag is hoisted as an offering to the protector deity of the village.
Every villages has a protector deity made to protect Dharma and people by the great religious figures. Statues of protector deities carry a white flag in the right hand.
By offering the white flag, the protector deity protects the people living in the house from evil forces and gives prosperity and happiness.
The flag on the roof signifies of victory over evil forces in the village. It is also the symbol of taking refuge in the protector deity of the place.
Color of the flag
The flag is white and nothing is written on it. Three fringes, of blue, red and yellow are attached to the flag.
Blue on the top of the flag symbolizes sky, red in the middle symbolizes fortune of the people living in the house and yellow on the bottom is the sign of the earth.
Like prayer flagsm, this flag is hoisted with a dagger and a wheel on its tip.
5. Marchang Flag
A flag, similar to the ones hoisted on the roof of houses, is used during the Marchang, an alcohol offering ceremony.
In Bhutan, offering of alcohol is made during a launch of an auspicious event, mark an important occasion or receive an honored guest.
The flag used during Marching symbolizes the victory over evil forces. It is also an offering of white flag to the protector deity along with Marchang.
The base of the pole is offered to the guest of honor at the gathering. Then guest of honor touches the base with right hand or takes in folded palms and prays for the smooth procession of the event.
The flag man takes away the flag once the short prayer is over. The flag is never hoisted but stored for use during other occasions.
If the guest of honor is His Majesty the King, National Flag of Bhutan is used in place of white flag.
Things to remember when hoisting prayer flags
1. All the prayer flags hoisted need to be consecrated by Lamas.
2. Prayer flags need to be hoisted on auspicious days.
3. If flags are hoisted on bad days, bad luck would follow until the flags get torn out.
4. Prayer flags should always fly and should never be fallen on ground.
As hundreds of trees are cut down to hoist prayer flags, Ministry of Agriculture and Forest has encouraged people to substitute wooden poles with bamboo poles.
To save trees, Bhutanese have started hoisting multiple flags on single pole using the ropes. This gives a pyramid look to the prayer flags.
Some prayer flags are hoisted vertically by binding the top and the bottom of the flags on ropes that is tied parallel to two poles at the end sides.
Prayer flags for decoration
Today, small prayer flags in different colors are seen lifted in and around hotels and restaurants for just for the sake of decoration and not for its significance.