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LEXICON

 

 

prayer flag

A rectangular piece of white or coloured cloth, with black woodblock-printed texts and images, as used in Tibetan and Nepalese Buddhism. Prayer flags are usually flown on a horizontal string in sets of five colours, that represent the five elements, reminiscent to that of Chinese philosophy (fig.), i.e. sky, wind, fire, water and earth, and are arranged in that specific order, starting with blue, then white, red, green, and finally yellow. The centre of a prayer flag traditionally features a horse with a flame on its back. The horse, known as Lung Ta or ‘Wind Horse’, is a symbol of speed and the transformation of bad fortune to good fortune, whereas the flame on its back represents the Three Jewels of Buddhism. The text surrounding the image consists of various versions of traditional mantras, as well as prayers for long life and good fortune. In addition, the images or the names of four auspicious animals, also known as the Four Dignities, may adorn each corner of a flag. These favorable animals are the Garuda, the sky dragon, the Snowlion, and the tiger (fig.). It is believed that prayer flags originated from the Indian Buddhist sutras, which were initially written on cloth. Traditionally, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom, and the prayers and mantras on them are blown by the wind to spread good will and compassion, whilst the image of the horse carries the blessings depicted on the flags to all beings. In addition, it is also believed that as wind passes over the surface of the flags, the air is purified and sanctified by the mantras. A single prayer flag is reminiscent of the Thai pah prachiad. See also prayer wheel.