The Spiritual Elements of Nepal’s Prayer Flags

Seen everywhere in the mountains, valleys and sacred sites of Nepal, prayer flags are a symbol of peace, goodwill and compassion. Originating in Tibet, early versions of prayer flags were used in battle. But as time passed, the flags came to take on more spiritual meaning.

Each of the five colors are always arranged from left to right in a specific order – blue, white, red, green and yellow – and represent the five elements: sky, air, fire, water and earth.

Each flag color represents one of the five elements.

Lung Ta (horizontal) prayer flags, pictured above, are square or rectangular shaped and commonly hung on a diagonal line between two objects in high places, such as the tops of temples, monasteries, stupas or mountain passes. Darchor (vertical) prayer flags, pictured below, are usually large, single rectangles attached to poles along their vertical edge.

Darchor prayer flags frame a statue of Tenzing Norgay near the village of Namche Bazaar in Nepal.

Over time, as the flags weather the elements, the bright colors of the flags fade to white. New prayer flags are hung alongside the old, acknowledging life’s continuous cycle. It is disrespectful to place flags on the ground or to use them as clothing. To dispose of old prayer flags, they traditionally are burned, so that the smoke can carry their blessings to all.

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