Free Press Journal

Vesak 2018: Significance and history of the colourful Buddhist prayer flags

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tibetan prayer flags

Vesak falls on the full moon day in the month of May and is considered as one the most sacred days to Buddhists around the world. It is believed to be the day when Lord Buddha was born, when he attained enlightenment and also when he passed away at the age of eighty. The day is observed on different days in different countries by Buddhists and some Hindus. Though Buddhism spread from India, it was adapted to many foreign cultures and hence the day is celebrated in different ways in different parts of the world. In India, the full moon day in the month of Vaishakh is observed as Buddha’s birthday and is also known as Buddha Jayanti. Countries that celebrate Vesak are Nepal, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Cambodia, Singapore, China and Japan, among others. In 2018, Vesak falls on April 30.

On the occasion of Vesak, we thought of giving you an insight into the significance of the Buddhists prayer flags, also called Tibetan prayer flags. Yes, those colourful flags that we often see hung at bikes, cars or work desk. These flags have mantras written on them. It is believed that these flags carry our prayers through the wind and get them answered. Ever wondered why are these flags colourful and what do the colours on them signify? Well, Buddhism gives you the answer. These flags send out positive energy and bring happiness and well-being to all.

What the colours on the flag signify?
There are five colours – blue, white, red, green and yellow – on the Tibetan prayer flags. The colours on the flags stand for compassion, the wisdom of sight, harmony, kindness and perfect wisdom. The colours also stand for the directions – North, South, East, West and Center. The flags are often put up on the 3rd day of the Tibetan New Year or during auspicious occasions.


Here’s what each colour of the flag signifies:

Blue flags symbolise space and signify purity or healing.
White flags symbolise air and signify wisdom of reality.
Red flags symbolise fire and signify energy.
Green flags symbolise water and signify liquidity of motion
Yellow flags symbolise earth and signify solid elements.

5 things to know about Buddhist prayer flags

  • The tradition of the flags goes back to preBuddhist Tibet, where people followed the Bon tradition. Priests used these flags to heal people.
  • The flag should always be put at a height so that it flutters in the wind. It is believed that the flags emit positive energy with the winds and the prayers are carried by the wind.
  • Colour fading from the flags is considered auspicious as it means that the prayers were carried by the breeze – fading colours are a sign of it.
  • Getting flags as a gift (and not buying) is the ideal way to acquire them.
  • It is considered disrespectful if the flags touch the ground.