In The Presence of Prayer Flags

by Debby Jagerman-Dungan
( November 19th, 2011 )

Manidhar Prayer Flags Bhutan Sun

There was something completely peaceful, completely centering, completely healing about listening to the sound of prayer flags flapping in the wind. Many times it was the only sound around. I found myself wanting to just stand there, sometimes amongst hundreds of prayer flags, listening, breathing, feeling.

Bhutan Prayer Flags Wind

Prayer flags are inscribed with auspicious and sacred emblems, symbols, and texts in the forms of invocations, mantras, and sutras. All of which are prayers and blessings. Prayers and blessings for long life, good fortune, health, wealth, peace. Prayers and blessings for happiness, prosperity, protection from harm, strength. Prayers and blessings for wish-fulfillment, luck, harmony, wisdom, merit, compassion.

It is believed that when the wind moves prayer flags, even with the slightest breeze, these prayers and blessings become activated, and then are carried through the air in a spiritual vibration across the vicinity. Not only does the flag planter, but everything that is touched by the wind, and all sentient beings, benefit from the prayers and blessings that are carried by the wind.

Prayer Flags Wind Bhutan

No wonder I just wanted to stand there, surrounded by prayer flags moving in the wind. No wonder it felt so peaceful, centering, and healing to be in the presence of prayer flags.


Prayer flags are everywhere in Bhutan. In front of homes, hotels, shops, temples, monasteries, religious sites, places of spiritual importance. On rooftops and near roads. Down in the valleys, up on the hillsides. On bridges, over rivers, and at mountain passes. Attached to trees, and amongst red rice and other fields. Alongside, surrounding, or attached to chortens and prayer wheels. You see them when walking in the villages, when trekking, and when driving. They are placed where people gather for a special reason. Prayer flags are part of everyday life for the Bhutanese, and part of their Buddhist religion.

Prayer Flags Homes Field Bhutan

Bhutan Prayer Flags Chorten

Lungta Prayer Flags Bridge Bhutan

Many prayer flags are made out of five colors. Each color represents the five elements on a physical level, the building blocks of both our bodies and the environment. Yellow is earth; green is water; red is fire; white is air/wind/cloud; and blue is sky/space. (Although some sources assign the colors a bit differently.) On a spiritual level the five colors represent the five emotions, the five Wisdoms of Buddha, the five Buddha Families, the five Meditating Buddhas, and the five directions. These five colors also symbolize some of the prayers and blessings above.

Prayer Flags Lungta Trees

There are several types of prayer flags in Bhutan. Lungdhar are square or rectangular in shape, made of the five colors, are connected along their top edges, and hung horizontally or diagonally on a string. In the center of each flag a prevalent symbol is printed, the Wind Horse (Lungta), which is a horse that carries on its back the wish-fulfilling jewel of enlightenment.

Lungta Prayer Flag Wind Horse

Darchor, also made of the five colors, are very tall vertical flags attached to poles planted in the ground. Darchor translates as “to increase life, fortune, health and wealth for all sentient beings.”

Prayer Flags Vertical Bhutan

Lhadhar, the largest flag, are also very tall vertical flags. They are white in color, usually have no text, and contain ribbons of red, yellow, and blue. Lhadhar are displayed in front of important places, such as monasteries and palaces, and one must be formally dressed to enter these places. Lhadhar represent victory over the forces of evil, and are commonly inscribed with the four powerful animals, the tiger, the snow lion, the dragon, and the Garuda (a celestial royal bird). These animals are also on the four outside corners of a Lungdhar prayer flag, surrounding and guarding the Wind Horse.

Prayer Flags Chelela Bhutan

Goendhar, the smallest prayer flags, are located in the middle of a rooftop of a home. Rectangular in shape, they are white with ribbons of green, red, yellow, and blue attached to the edges. These flags are blessings for welfare, prosperity, and harmony in the family.

Manidhar Prayer Flags Bhutan

Very tall white prayer flags, Manidhar, are also vertical and attached to poles. They are raised on behalf of a deceased person, as a way of remembering the person who died. It is believed that there are benefits from hoisting batches of 108 (an auspicious number) of Manidhar prayer flags. Although, hoisting one flag is just as beneficial.

Prayer Flags 108 Manidhar Bhutan

Prayer flags are considered holy, and should be treated with respect. When raising or hanging prayer flags, it is important to keep in mind this saying: “May all sentient beings everywhere receive benefit and find happiness.”

While I bought some Lungdhar prayer flags to hang in my back yard at home to remind me of Bhutan, I miss seeing the colorfulness of the prayer flags everywhere. I miss hearing their flapping sound in the wind. And I miss being in their peaceful, centering, and healing presence.

Prayer Flag Rainbow Bhutan

Sweet (and healing) Travels!

Prayer flag information credits:
Tobgay, one of my Bhutanese guides article Lungta (Wind Horse) Prayer Flags Bhutan Prayer Flags Bhutanese Prayer Flags
Lonely Planet Bhutan guidebook
Wikipedia Prayer Flag

For more photos, please see Photo Friday.

From our partners
On November 20th, 2011 at 7:28 am, Beth W. said:

Debby – these are fantastic photos and great information about prayer flags! Thanks for sharing!

On November 20th, 2011 at 9:49 am, Lisa Overman - Hammock in Paradise said:

Debbie, I love this, what a healing and beautiful environment. I can see why you loved it.

On November 20th, 2011 at 11:24 am, Debby Jagerman said:

Thank you, Beth. I actually have so many more photos that I would have wanted to include in the blog. I loved learning about prayer flags as well, and thus understanding my feelings more, and really learning more about the Bhutanese and Buddhism.

On November 20th, 2011 at 11:25 am, Debby Jagerman said:

Thank you, Lisa. Yes, I truly loved not only the prayer flags in Bhutan, but so many other aspects of the Bhutanese and Buddhism that I found to be healing and beautiful. (Subjects for future blogs.)

On November 21st, 2011 at 7:35 am, scott said:

In the 2nd photo, can you tell us more about the very colorful flag in the upper right with the writing on it? Your description shows how united this culture is for the positive, both personal and spiritual. The photos of the flags in such numbers and in so many places, is truly inspiring.

On November 21st, 2011 at 10:24 am, Debby Lee Jagerman said:

Thank you, Scott!! I don’t know much about that colorful flag actually. Other than one of my other Bhutanese guides telling me that they are very special, and expensive flags. Thus I don’t think ther are seen as often as the other types of flags.

On November 22nd, 2011 at 3:27 pm, Elizabeth (dimsumdiary) said:

I love prayer flags too and agree there is something unusually peacefull about them. Your photos are beautiful and remind me of our trips to Bhutan and Tibet. Thanks!

On November 22nd, 2011 at 9:25 pm, Debby Jagerman said:

Thank you, Elizabeth. I have not yet been to Tibet, but I have moved it up on my list of countries to visit soon! I would love to see prayer flags there as well.

On November 23rd, 2011 at 9:26 pm, Beth Shepherd - Pampers and Pakhlava said:

Lovely photos…I particularly like the first photo. When I traveled in Tibet, I was also mesmerized by the prayer flags: what they stood for, the sound, seeing them everywhere. It is such a distinctive and moving symbol in Buddhist cultures.

On November 24th, 2011 at 8:29 pm, Debby Jagerman said:

Thanks, Beth. You summed up prayer flags nicely.

On November 29th, 2011 at 9:42 pm, Nancy Sorell said:

And Bhutan misses you. What an amazing experience.

On November 29th, 2011 at 9:43 pm, Nancy Sorell said:

PS Now I know about our neighbor’s prayer flags down the street. Let’s go see them this weekend!

On December 2nd, 2011 at 8:24 pm, Sonja said:

I didn’t know all that about prayer flags. What a deep and meaningful tradition.

On December 3rd, 2011 at 7:58 am, Camels & Chocolate said:

This is even crazier than all the flags in Cuba blocking the embassy from view!

On December 5th, 2011 at 9:48 am, Debby Lee Jagerman said:

Sonja, yes, prayer flags are definitely a deep and meaningful tradition.

On December 5th, 2011 at 9:53 am, Debby Lee Jagerman said:

Kristin, guess I’ll need to see the flags in Cuba. Thanks for reading my blog, and commenting.

Mentions on other sites...
  1. Bhutanese Prayer Wheels for All Sentient Beings - Debby's Departures on February 27th, 2012 at 8:49 pm
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