Many places in Nepal, Tibet, and the Himalaya region, wherever prayers can meet the wind, are decorated with colorful flags. These flags are fluttering on temples, holy sites, roof-tops of houses, mountain summits. Tibetans believe that the wind that blows through them brings blessings to all sentient beings.
The prayer flags tradition originates in India where the Indian Buddhist Sutras, written on cloth, were transmitted to other parts of the world. According to a legend, the first prayer flags were battle flags where Shakyamuni Buddha had written his prayers. The idea of this type of prayer flags was brought to Tibet by buddhist monks from India.
Although, the Tibetan Bon Shamans already used similar flags even before the arrival of Buddhism. The sets of five colored flags, with each color responding to a certain element of nature, are set up in following order: blue (symbolizing sky/space), white (symbolizing air/wind), red (symbolizing fire), green (symbolizing water), yellow (symbolizing earth) from left to right. The early Tibetan prayer flags also depicted the four auspicious animals (the Four Dignities) - the Dragon (symbolizing "Water"), the Garuda (also known as Khyung, a wise eagle-like bird-deity symbolizing "Fire"), the Tiger (representing "Air"), and the Snowlion (stands for "Earth"). These animals represent sacred qualities such as confidence (Tiger), clear awareness (Snowlion), fearlessness (Garuda), and gentle power (Dragon).
The Bonpos used primary-colored plain flags in healing ceremonies, since the traditional Tibetan medicine considered the balance of the five elements to be essential to health and harmony. After Buddhism arrived in Tibet, the shaman's colored flags were integrated into Tibetan Buddhist practice. The prayer flags kept their shaman uses to bring benefits, protection, good health and blessings in special occasions.
Bon shaman, Nepal. Photo: Bruno Baumann
Different symbols and types of prayer flags
There are many symbols that frequently adorn different types of prayer flags used for various purposes. For instance, a Lungta (Windhorse) prayer flag has in the middle a horse (Ta) with three jewels (jewels symbolize the three pillars of Tibetan buddhism, the teaching - Dharma, the buddhist community - Sangha, and Buddha) on its back. The Ta symbolizes quick movement of bringing benefits, fulfilling aspirations and hopes, and transforming negative into positive. There are different versions of about twenty traditional mantras surrounding the Ta, each dedicated to a particular deity such as Avalokiteśvara (boddhisatva of compassion), Manjushri (bodhisattva of wisdom) or others. Corners of the flag have pictures or names of four powerful animals - the Dragon, the Garuda, the Tiger, and the Snowlion.
Medicine Buddha is considered to have extremely powerful form of enlightened energy, and therefore the Medicine Buddha prayer flags are used to promote healing and helping one to achieve one's goals successfully. It is also beneficial for someone who is ill or even someone who has died to offer such prayer flags for the purpose of helping that person to overcome their illness or for a good rebirth in the next life.
The prayer flags are also often decorated with the eight Buddhist auspicious symbols, also known as Ashtamangala. Each of these symbols (Conch Shell, Lotus, Dharma wheel, Parasole, Endless Knot, Pair of Golden Fishes, Vicotry Banner, Treasure Vase) represents a certain aspect of buddhist philosophy promoting the spreading and protection of buddhist teaching.
Just as life is dynamic and constantly changing, Tibetans renew their prayers for the world by placing new flags next to the old ones. This is a way to respect the changing nature of our lives and viewing all beings as part of the one great cycle of life. Since the symbols and mantras on prayer flags are sacred, they should be treated respectfully. They should not be placed on the ground or used in clothing. Old prayer flags should be burned.
It is often thought that the prayer flags carry prayers to deities. This is not so, for instead the Tibetan belief is that the wind blows the prayers and mantras to spread the compassion and good will to everywhere in space, so that all beings will benefit from them. Generally, it is believed that placing prayer flags brings good karma and benefits to the one who places them as well as to all beings. However, the most honorable way of using prayer flags, with all their auspicious religious symbols and mantras, is the idea that they are not to benefit the one who placed them, but rather it is done for the sake of others.
Stepping into the gardening store, the choice of roses can be overwhelming for a Rose-Lover – David Austin English roses, Floribunda roses, Hybrid roses, Hybrid Musk and Tea roses, Landscape roses. The list goes on. Forever. One is more beautiful than the other, and many have better aroma than expensive perfumes. And, in addition to their variety and beauty, roses are surrounded with rich symbolism and many legends.
Rose, just like the lily and the lotus, is one of the most important flower symbols in the world. Since roses are most widely known as a symbol of love, it is a flower of Venus and Aphrodite. According to a Greek poet Anakreon, rose was born from a white foam that surrounded Aphrodite when she returned from her swim in the sea. An Indian legend speaks how the goddess of beauty, Lakshmi, was born of a rose that consisted of 108 rose petals. God Vishnu fell in love and married Lakshmi, and the rose became a sign of a godly secret, and sacred flower of the Eastern world.
In different cultures rose stands for youth, purity, perfection, love, marriage or rebirth. The different colors of roses also have specific meaning. For instance, white is for purity, red is for passion and sacrifice, yellow means joy and compassion, and pink is for peace, friendship, and gratitude. Rose is a paradox, at the same time representing life and death, heavenly perfection and worldly desires, chastity and fertility.
Similarly to the lotus, rose refers to the triumph of spirit over matter, for its beautiful form grows out from the muddy earth. And, just like it is with the lotus, the number of rose petals has significance. For instance, the original wild rose had 5 petals, that balances the female 2 with male 3, symoblizing marriage, and the union of opposites. As the lotus is the flower of the goddess Tara in Buddhism, the rose is a symbol of the Virgin Mary.
Roses have often signified miraculous and Godly love in all the world's major religions. The aroma of roses has been associated with angels. Some believe that angels use rose scents as physical signs of their spiritual presence with people. This is because roses have very strong energy fields that vibrate at a high electrical frequency (the highest of any other flower). Therfore, since angelic energy also has high vibration, angels can connect easier with roses than with other flowers that have lower vibrational rates.
So now the Rose-Lover steps out of the gardening store, has a smile on her face, an empty wallet, and – instead of the intended 1 or 2 roses – a car full of roses. Few pinks for peace and gratitude, some reds for love and passion, some whites for purity, and yellow for joy. And, barely seeing anything through the car’s back window, the Rose-Lover drives away with a vision of a garden full of fragrant roses and angels walking in between the flowerbeds.
Jaansoo, Puusepp, Kaur. „Maagilised taimed ja taimemaagia.“
ABOUT THIS BLOG
Welcome! :) My name is Monika. I am interested in beauty, art, different cultures, and good stories. I have always been fascinated with semiotics and symbols, and how people of different cultures interpret them.