Prayer flags have become quite popular in recent years. Even non-Buddhist children and teens may have seen these colorful printed flags hung between trees, blowing in the wind. But do they (or even Buddhist adults) really know what they are? Probably not. What better way to learn about this Buddhist tradition than to make some together and talk about their meaning as you go? Here, we are providing a simple tutorial and some background information. Making prayer flags with children and teens is auspicious fun and relatively easy to accomplish. Enjoy!
Himalayan art scholar Jeff Watt writes that “a prayer flag is a printed image on paper or cloth intended to be thrown into the wind or fixed wherever the wind blows. The flags often contain images of animals, deities, or auspicious inscriptions.” Commonly the central animal on prayer flags is a horse and Watt explains that “traditionally, it’s thought that it is the horse that rides the wind and carries the auspicious wishes and prayers to the world.” The Wind Horse (or lung ta) is also associated with “spirit” in a general sense. Prayer flags are hung often to lift the spirit of beings in the environment where they are raised.
There are five colors of prayer flags (blue, white, red, green and yellow) and they come in sets of five. The five colors represent the elements as they are categorized in Tibetan Buddhism: blue symbolizes space; white symbolizes air; red symbolizes fire; green symbolizes water; and yellow symbolizes earth. The balance of these elements is believed to be crucial.
In addition to the Wind Horse there are 4 other animals which can be recognized with the help of the diagram to the left. These are the Sky Dragon, Eagle/Garuda, Snow Lion and Tiger and are known collectively as “The Four Dignities.” These powerful animals represent the 4 cardinal directions. Spiritually, they also represent qualities that the Bodhisattva develops on the path the to enlightenment.
Tibetan prayers and mantras are written on the flags. It is believed that by hanging flags in high places the lung ta will carry the blessings depicted on the flags to all beings. 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. Old prayer flags should be burned.
Prayer Flag Tutorial
What you will need:
Prayer flag woodcut: download the woodcut to the left and print 5 for each child
Scissors: provide scissors appropriate for the child’s age or cut them out in advance
Crayons: yellow, green, red, and blue
String: long enough to string flags side-by-side with extra length on each end for hanging
Tape: this will be placed where holes will be made to prevent tearing
Hole puncher: to make holes for the string to weave the flags together
1.) First click to enlarge the prayer flag woodcut. Then print 5 for each child.
2.) Present the activity in an age-appropriate way using the information from above. Ask children to think of their own prayers or aspirations as they go through the activity.
3.) Use the crayons to color 4 of the flags and leave one white flag uncolored. They need to be colored one solid color each: one blue; one white; one red; one green; one yellow.
4.) Cut out the flags leaving some white space at the top to fold over, tape, and hole punch.
5.) Fold over the white space left at the top of the flags. Then tape both sides of this fold.
6.) Measure about an inch in from the top edges of the flag and punch a hole over the taped section. You will end up with two holes at the top of each flag.
7.) Arrange the flags side-by-side in the correct color order: blue, white, red, green, and yellow.
8.) Weave the string through the flags, leaving about an inch of string between each flag and about a foot on either end for hanging. Turn the flags over and tape the string to flags to secure their position.
9.) Decide where you will hang the flags. Say a prayer for all beings to be happy. Hang your prayer flags in a high place.