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Tibetan Windhorse Prayer Flags

About Tibetan Buddhist Prayer Flags

Tibetan prayer flags are used to promote peace, wisdom, and compassion. The bright cloth flags are printed with auspicious symbols, invocations, prayers, and mantras. Tibetans believe that the prayers will be spread by the wind, bringing goodwill and auspiciousness to all beings.

Tibetan prayer flagsThe hanging of prayer flags is a tradition dating back thousands of years to ancient Buddhist India and to the Bon tradition of pre-Buddhist Tibet. Tibetans hang prayer flags at mountain passes and at temples, stupas, and other sacred structures so their prayers can be released.

Sadly, Chinese authorities have recently ordered the destruction of prayer flags in many areas of Tibet in what has been called “one of China’s most direct assaults to date on visible symbols of Tibetan culture and religious belief”.

Meaning of the Tibetan Prayer Flag Colors

Tibetan prayer flags are rich in symbolic meaning. The flags come in sets of five and are hung left to right in this specific order: blue, white, red, green, and yellow. Each of the colors represents an element. Blue symbolizes the sky and space, white symbolizes the air and wind, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth.

windhorse prayer flags, A Tibetan Buddhist nun hangs windhorse prayer flags at the nunnery

A Tibetan Buddhist nun hangs windhorse prayer flags at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to hang prayer flags, but they should be handled with respect. As you hang them, you should have good motivation, keeping in mind the flags’ ultimate purpose to spread positivity far and wide.

The square-shaped, horizontally strung prayer flags are the most common, but there are also vertical prayer flags mounted on poles.

Windhorse Prayer Flags

The wind horse or lungta is the most prevalent symbol used on Tibetan prayer flags. These are the most popular prayer flags sold in our online store. All the prayer flags sold by the Tibetan Nuns Project are handmade and blessed by the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in India. Proceeds from the sales help fund education, food, shelter, clothing and health care for over 800 nuns at seven nunneries in India.

In the center of the windhorse prayer flag is the image of a powerful horse called a lungta or རླུང་རྟ in Tibetan. On its back, the horse bears three flaming jewels which are the cornerstones of Tibetan philosophical tradition. These jewels represent the Buddha, the dharma (the Buddhist teachings), and the sangha (the Buddhist community). The horse (ta orརྟ in Tibetan) is a symbol of speed and the transformation of bad fortune to good fortune.

red windhorse Tibetan prayer flag showing symbols and prayers

Surrounding the windhorse or lungta are mantras or prayers written in Tibetan. Clockwise starting from the top left corner of the prayer flags are images of four powerful animals, also known as the Four Dignities: the garuda, the dragon, the snow lion, and the tiger.

Together the Four Dignities represent the attitudes and sacred qualities that Bodhisattvas develop on the path to enlightenment – qualities such as fearlessness (garuda), gentle power (dragon), clear awareness (snow lion), and confidence (tiger).

On both sides of the prayer flag are the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism which represent the offerings made to the Buddha when he attained enlightenment:

  • The Precious Parasol
  • The Vase of Great Treasures
  • The White Conch Shell
  • The Victory Banner
  • The Two Golden Fish
  • The Lotus Flower
  • The Eternal Knot
  • The Eight Spoked Wheel

Windhorse prayer flags made by the nuns are available in three sizes. You can buy Windhorse Prayer flags here.

Hanging prayer flags at your home or business brings a feeling of harmony and calls to mind the teachings of the Buddha. Proper motivation is important when raising prayer flags. You should hang them with the wish that all beings everywhere will find happiness and be free from suffering.

Tibetan New Year Losar

The first day of Tibetan New Year or Losar is February 24, 2020. According to the Tibetan lunar calendar it is the beginning of the Iron Mouse Year 2147.

Tibetan New Year Losar Chemar box barley and tsampa Tibetan Nuns Project

A chemar box for Tibetan New Year made by the nuns. This ornately carved box contains roasted barley and tsampa (roasted barley flour). It is decorated with butter sculptures made by the nuns. The chemar is an auspicious offering to make at the Losar shrine to bring prosperity in the new year.

Tibetan New Year Activities

Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. First, Tibetans say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects. Part of this involves cleaning one’s home from top to bottom. After that, the “new year” Losar (ལོ་གསར་) is welcomed with prayers and by inviting all good, auspicious things into our homes and our lives.

Here is a snapshot of Losar activities at a large Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in India, Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. The video was made several years ago with photos taken by the nuns themselves. If you can’t see the video, click here.

Before Losar

On the 29th day of the outgoing year, called nyi-shu-gu in Tibetan, Tibetans do something like a big spring clean. By cleaning, Tibetans purify their homes and bodies of obstacles, negativity, sickness, and anything unclean.

cleaning before Losar Tibetan New Year

In the days leading up to Losar, cleaning is an important part of New Year’s preparations. The nuns clean their room as well as the nunnery complex. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Losar Food

On the night of the 29th, Tibetans eat a special kind of noodle soup called guthuk. This dish, eaten once a year two days before Losar, is part of a ritual to dispel any misfortunes of the past year and to clear the way for a peaceful and auspicious new year. If you want to make it at home, here’s a vegetarian recipe for guthuk.

Vegetarian guthuk from YoWangdu copy

Guthuk is a special noodle soup eaten once a year on the 29th day of the last month of the Tibetan calendar. For a recipe for guthuk and other Tibetan food, visit YoWangdu.com. Photo courtesy of YoWangdu.

Guthuk has at least nine ingredients and contains large dough balls, one for each person eating the soup. Hidden inside each dough ball is an object (or its symbol) such as chilies, salt, wool, rice, and coal. These objects are supposed to represent the nature of the person who receives that particular dough ball. For instance, if one gets a lump of rock salt in a dough ball (or a piece of paper with the Tibetan word for salt on it) this implies that one is a lazy person. If a person finds chilies in their dough, it means they are talkative.

Also on the 29th day, special tormas (ritual figures of flour and butter) are made. After supper, the tormas and the guthuk offered by the nuns are taken outside and and away from the nunnery. The nuns say “dhong sho ma” to mean “Go away. Leave the house” to get rid of all bad omens.

Other Losar preparations include making special Tibetan New Year foods such as momos and khapse, Tibetan cookies or biscuits. The khapse are made a few days before Losar and are distributed among the nuns and staff.

Making Tibetan Khapse for Tibetan New Year Losar

A Tibetan nun fries khapse at Dolma Ling. Khapse are deep fried biscuits that are a staple of Tibetan New Year’s celebrations. The most common shape is the small twisted rectangular pieces which are served to guests.

The next day is called Namkhang which is the day when houses are decorated. Special ritual offerings are also prepared for the day and these are said in the prayer hall.

Also, as part of the Losar or Tibetan New Year preparations, the nuns make butter sculptures to help decorate the Losar altar.

Tibetan butter sculptures for Losar Tibetan New Year

Elaborate and colorful butter sculptures of flowers and Buddhist sacred symbols decorate the offering table for Losar or Tibetan New Year. These sculptures were made by the nuns at Dolma Ling.

Losar Day

On the day of Losar itself, Tibetans get up early in the morning and wish each other “Tashi Delek” or Happy New Year and then go to the prayer hall for prayers. Part of the prayer ceremony includes tsok, the offering of blessed food including khapse biscuits and fruit.

Here’s an audio recording of the nuns’ Losar prayers courtesy of Olivier Adam.

At the end of the puja or prayer ceremony, all the nuns line up to pay hommage at the throne of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to the nunnery’s leaders. They offer white kataks, ceremonial Tibetan prayers scarves.

Young Tibetan Buddhist nuns holding Losar khapse

Young nuns hold large deep-fried Losar pastries called bhungue amcho or khugo. This particular type of khapse are known as Donkey Ears because of their shape and size. These large, elongated, hollow tubes of crispy pastry are stacked up on the Losar altar and are given as food offerings. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Visiting others is a special part of Losar. The nuns and staff at the nunnery visit each other’s rooms to wish each other a happy new year and to drink cups of traditional Tibetan salty butter tea.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns offering at Losar Tibetan New Year

Two nuns carry a chemar bo, an open, decorated box with one half filled with chemar, made of roasted barley flour or tsampa and the other half filled with roasted barley. People are invited to take a pinch of the chemar then offer a blessing with three waves of the hand in the air, then taking a nibble. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Hanging Prayer Flags at Losar

It is customary to hang new sets of prayer flags at Losar. Old prayer flags from the previous year are taken down and burned with bunches of fragrant pine and juniper. New prayer flags are hung. If you need new prayer flags you can order them from the Tibetan Nuns Project online store. The prayer flags are made and blessed by the nuns at Dolma Ling.

burning old Tibetan prayer flags

At Losar, old prayer flags are removed and burned and new ones are hung at the nunnery. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

On the third day of Tibetan New Year, a special incense burning offering called sang-sol is held. While many nuns travel home to visit their families at Losar, some nuns remain at the nunnery and take part in this special event.

The nuns gather in a line or circle and each takes some tsampa (roasted barley flour) in her right hand as an offering. The nuns raise their arms simultaneously twice and then, on the third time, they throw the tsampa high into the air shouting “Losar Tashi Delek”.

Happy Losar Tibetan New Year

P.S. It’s not too late to purchase the 2020 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar with stunning images of the lives of the Tibetan nuns, ritual dates, and the Tibetan lunar calendar.

Tibetan prayer flags made and blessed by nuns

The Tibetan Nuns Project sells Tibetan prayer flags made and blessed by the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, near Dharamsala, northern India.

The nuns have been making prayer flags for many years now and the sale of these specially blessed objects helps provide food, health care, shelter and education for the over 230 nuns who live at the nunnery, as well as help support hundreds of nuns at 6 other nunneries in India.

nun making Tibetan prayer flags

Making Tibetan prayer flags at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Sales of prayer flags through the Tibetan Nuns Project online store benefit the nuns at Dolma Ling as well as six other nunneries in India.

Traditionally, prayer flags come in sets of five, with one flag in each of five colors, left to right in this specific order: blue, white, red, green, and yellow. The five colors represent the elements: blue symbolizes the sky and space, white symbolizes the air and wind, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth.

Prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be spread by the wind and bring good will and compassion to benefit all beings.

Prayer flags are made of block-printed fabric using traditional printing techniques going back hundreds of years.

When raising prayer flags it is important to have a good motivation. One should not have selfish or limiting thoughts; when hanging prayer flags one should wish that all beings everywhere will benefit and find happiness.

Tibetan tradition considers prayer flags to be holy. The flags contain sacred texts and symbols and should be treated respectfully. They should not be placed on the ground or put in the trash. When disposing of old prayer flags one should burn them so that the smoke may carry their blessings to the heavens.

You can buy Tibetan prayer flags through the Tibetan Nuns Project online store. They come in a variety of types and sizes of prayer flags as follows:

mini Tibetan prayer flagsMini Prayer Flags

These are perfect for small spaces such as above a desk or computer or in a kitchen window. Each mini flag in the set of 5 has one symbol and one syllable of the mantra OM MANI PADME HUM on it. Probably the oldest Buddhist mantra and still the most widespread among Tibetans is this six-syllable mantra of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. This mantra sends blessings of compassion to the six worldly realms. Buy mini prayer flags here.

Windhorse Tibetan prayer flagsWindhorse Prayer Flags

The Wind Horse or Lung-ta is the most prevalent symbol used on prayer flags. In the center of the prayer flag is a powerful horse (lung-ta) bearing three flaming jewels on its back. These jewels represent the Buddha, the Dharma (Buddhist teachings), and the Sangha (Buddhist community) which are the three cornerstones of Tibetan philosophical tradition. The horse (Ta) is a symbol of speed and the transformation of bad fortune to good fortune. Surrounding the Lung ta are mantras and Buddhist sacred symbols. In the corners of the prayer flags are images four powerful animals, also known as the Four Dignities: the dragon, the garuda, the tiger, and the snow lion. Windhorse prayer flags made by the nuns are available in three sizes. Buy Windhorse Prayer flags here.

Tara Tibetan Prayer flagsTara Prayer Flags

Tara represents virtuous and enlightened action. It is said that her compassion for living beings is stronger than a mother’s love for her children. She also brings about longevity, protects earthly travel, and guards her followers on their spiritual journey to enlightenment. The Tara prayer flags have a lovely image of Tara in the center.  You can order Tara prayer flags in three sizes here.

Guru Rinpoche prayer flagsGuru Rinpoche Prayer Flags

Padmasambhava, the renowned saint of the eighth century, was a central figure in shaping Buddhism’s history in Tibet. Revered as the second Buddha, Guru Rinpoche (Precious Guru) conquered the local deities and demons of Tibet and bound them by oath to become guardians of Buddhism. Purchase Guru Rinpoche prayer flags in three sizes here.

Gyaltsen Tsenpo Tibetan Prayer flagsGyaltsen Tsenpo Prayer Flags

This is a common prayer flag, especially at New Year, symbolizing new ventures and beginnings. Gyaltsen Tsenpo prayer flags are printed with sutras bestowed by Lord Buddha to Indra, king of the gods to overcome his enemies and achieve victory. Order Gyaltsen Tsenpo prayer flags in three sizes here.

Buddhist Nuns Participate in Tibetan Handicrafts Exhibition

The tailoring program at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute received a big boost in July when the nuns were invited to show their handicrafts at a special two-day Art and Craft’s Exhibition organized by the Department of Education of the Central Tibetan Administration.

No other nunneries and monasteries were invited to the exhibition that took place on July 25th and 26th.

Kalon Lobsang Sangay speaking to Tibetan Buddhist nun

The Chief guest at the exhibition was Kalon Lobsang Sangay who was very impressed by the display. He spoke encouragingly to the nuns.

The exhibition was organized to introduce traditional Tibetan crafts to 25 teachers and students from 9 different schools located in Himachal Pradesh, Dehradun and Nepal. The Dolma Ling Nunnery Product Manager, Mr. Tenzin Yanga, and two nuns from the tailoring section attended the exhibition. Continue reading