The Meaning behind Prayer Flag Colors

The colors in Tibetan Prayer Flags have meanings and symbolism that are represented in each flag set. The five colors are arranged from left to right in a specific order: blue, white, red, green, and yellow. The five colors represent the five elements of nature and the Five Pure Lights. Each element is associated with a different color for a specific tradition, purpose, and sadhana, which is the methodology for personal growth in every aspect of your life. According to traditional Tibetan medicine, health and harmony are produced through the balance of the five elements which mean and symbolize the following:

  • Blue symbolizes the sky and space hanging prayer flags
  • White symbolizes the air and wind
  • Red symbolizes fire
  • Green symbolizes water
  • Yellow symbolizes earth

Tibetan Prayer Flags Symbols and Prayers

The center of a prayer flag traditionally features a Lung Ta (a powerful or strong horse) bearing three flaming jewels, specifically a Ratna which is the Sanskrit word for jewels, on its back. The Ta is a symbol of speed and the transformation of bad fortune to good fortune. The three flaming jewels symbolize the Buddha, the Dharma (Buddhist teachings), and the Sangha (Buddhist community) and they are the three cornerstones of Tibetan philosophical tradition.

Surrounding the Lung Ta are various versions of approximately 400 traditional mantras, each dedicated to a particular deity. These writings include mantras from three of the great Buddhist Bodhisattvas: Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche), Avalokiteśvara (Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion, and the patron of the Tibetan people), and Manjusri.

In addition to mantras, prayers for a long life of good fortune are often included when the person hangs the flags does so. Images or the names of four powerful animals, also known as the Four Dignities, adorn each corner of a flag: the dragon, the garuda ( a mythical bird-like creature), the tiger, and the snow lion.

Uses of the Tibetan Prayer Flag

Traditionally, Prayer Flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The flags do not carry prayers to gods, which is a common misconception; rather, the Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be blown by the wind to spread the goodwill and compassion into all pervading space. Therefore, prayer flags are thought to bring benefit to all.

By hanging flags in high places the Lung Ta (sometimes spelled Lungta) will carry the blessings depicted on the flags to all beings. As wind passes over the surface of the flags, which are sensitive to the slightest movement of the wind, the air is purified and sanctified by the mantras.

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, Tibetans renew their hopes for the world by continually mounting new flags alongside the old. 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. They should not be placed on the ground or used on clothing. It is a tradition to burn old prayer flags so that the prayers are carried to the heavens. When burning the old flags make sure to be mindful of the purpose and intentions that were thought of when the flags were originally hung. This will keep the cycle for the new and old prayer flags in motion.

Sources: Tibetan Handicrafts Co-operative & Wikipedia