prayer flags: mantras blessed by the breeze
What are prayer flags?
Cloth prayer flags date back thousands of years to the ancient Bön of Tibet, who used colored pieces of cloth in healing ceremonies. Bon is commonly considered to be the indigenous religious tradition of Tibet, a system of shamanistic and animistic practices.
When Buddhism was introduced to Tibet in the 7th century, it brought with it the idea of spreading peace and compassion to all. Within the next century Buddhism largely took the place of Bon, while absorbing many of its traditions, including the flags. The early prayer flags contained both Buddhist prayers and pictures of the Bon gods who were believed to protect Buddha. Over the next 200 years, Buddhist monks began to print mantras and symbols on the flags as blessings to be sent out to the world with each breeze. They were used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom, which is still the case today.
The colors of Tibetan prayer flags aren't just for show. Each hue signifies an element — and the flags are arranged in a specific order, from left to right: blue, white, red, green, yellow. Blue represents the sky, white represents the air, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth. All five colors together signify balance.
How are prayer flags used?
Today, Buddhists, yogis and spiritual seekers alike enjoy hanging prayer flags in their sacred spaces to spread goodwill and compassion into surrounding areas. Ideally, prayer flags are hung outside in a high place so that wind can pass over the surface of each flag and the air can be purified by the mantras. It's important to keep good, selfless motivations in mind as you hang your flags.
The prayers of a flag become a permanent part of the universe as the images fade from exposure to the elements. Just as life moves on and is replaced by new life, we can renew our hopes for the world by continually mounting new flags alongside older flags. This act symbolizes a welcoming of life's changes and an acknowledgment that all beings are part of a greater ongoing cycle.
According to traditional belief, because the symbols and mantras on prayer flags are sacred, they should be treated with respect and should not be placed on the ground or used on clothing.
Why are chattra's prayer flags so special?
chattra's Nepali prayer flags are designed and stitched by Nepali survivors of human trafficking who have been trained in the Harambee Arts therapy methodology. These amazing women lead workshops throughout Nepal for survivors and girls at risk. Harambee Arts partners with Shakti Samuha, the first organization globally that was founded and staffed by survivors of human trafficking. Most of the women who work for Shakti Samuha experienced forced prostitution, some sold as young as seven or eight years of age. While struggling to reclaim their own lives, they reach out to support and empower other trafficking survivors by providing desperately needed shelter, legal aid, vocational training, and counseling.
Our Nepali prayer flags (while not the traditional Tibetan color scheme) feature brilliantly colored fabric and an inspiring word in both English and Nepali: faith, love, grateful, together, imagine, creative, peace, believe, honest, courage. Purchasing one of our Nepali prayer flags is a great way to bring beautiful mantras into your sacred space while promoting the advancement of these incredible women and honoring the prayer flag tradition of spreading peace and compassion to all.
(photo: a collection of prayer flags, bridge to Matho Monastery, Ladakh, India)