In your travels around Bhutan, you must have surely come across prayer flags in almost every nook and cranny of the country.
For the Bhutanese, prayer flags are an integral part of the Bhutanese cultural heritage. And, so, they are everywhere – alongside the highway, on mountain passes, in and around monasteries and dzongs, and the mighty peaks that look over the country.
Rooted in spirituality, the Bhutanese believe that with each flutter, a flag releases the prayer printed on it into the air which in turn carries it to the heavens. So, the more the flag flaps, the greater is its divine value. It is for this reason that prayer flags are in positions that catch the wind – high up in the forested mountain slopes, across bridges, nearby rivers and streams that tumble down the valleys and anywhere there is a wind tunnel effect.
The intensity of the wind is not the only criterion in positioning prayer flags. They are placed around everything that is scared and important to the people, from monasteries to homes and farmlands, to protect them with a shield of divinity.
The different colors used in a prayer flag represent the five elements in nature: red for fire, blue for water, yellow for earth, white for sky and green for vegetation and life. Indeed, the prayer flags serve as the bridge between heaven and earth.
However, the prayers taken from Buddhist scriptures and printed on the flag differ from those put up for the dead and those meant to help the living during their life on earth. The prayers for each occasion and situation, accompanied by their own special symbols, are etched onto wooden printing blocks which are dipped in ink and embossed onto the flag. Flags flown on posts may contain a number of prayers on the same strip of fabric – each flutter releasing them all in the wind.
So, next time you come across one while journeying through Bhutan, known that it reflects the essence of the Bhutanese people whose spirituality is deeply rooted in the land.