Prayer Flag Activity

Windhorse prayer flag

Prayer Flags are an ancient, pre-Buddhist tradition of offering prayers to the local nature spirits. These gods were seen as hotile demonic forces to be humored; consequently one offered prayers to them begging to be spared from harm. Buddhists use prayer flags also. Buddhism tamed many of the older gods and made them protectors. It also has many gods to whom prayers were offered to ask for help and guidance.

Tibetsan believe that thoughts travel on the winds, even inside of us.

Worship is not confined to churches, temples, or only special days in Tibet, but is a way of life. In many ways Tibetans are always praying, saying series of prayers with prayer beads, spinning prayer wheels, and flying prayer flags.

Prayer flags are often in five colors that represent things such as:

  • the elements
  • he directions
  • the senses
  • five special Buddha families

The colors are:

  • Blue for water or air, east and sound. The associated deity is Akshobya, the unshakeable, who helps overcome anger.
  • Green for trees and fields, north, and touch. The associated deity is Amoghasiddi, unfailing perfection, who helps overcome envy.
  • Red for fire, west, and taste. The associated deity is Amitayus,Buddha of infinite life, who helps overcome desire.
  • Yellow for earth, south, and smell. The associated deity is Ratnasambhava, Buddha of precious birth, who overcomes greed.
  • White for wind and air or water, center, and sight. The associated deity is Vairochana, the illuminator, who overcomes hatred.

In Tibet, prayers and images are carved into wood or cast as metal blocks. Images include deities, animals or symbols. A Tibetan man thought it would be nice for people all over the world to make flags of their own design with wishes for world peace.

Suggested art excercise:

  1. Divide your class into five groups. Assign each group one of the five colors.
  2. Discuss what element they think would be appropriate for each color.
  3. Have each group (if students are good at working together, otherwise each child can choose his/her image independently) discuss and decide what image (animal, symbol, or figure) to put in the center of their flag, and what message (wishes or prayers) they will write around it. Some traditional Tibetan images include the following, which they might find if they conduct library or web-based research:

    • Lotus, for purity
    • Conch shell, for the power of words
    • Wheel, for knowledge
    • Endless knot (at the end of each page on this website!), meaning all things are joined
    • Twin fish, for freedom
    • Vase, for treasure
    • Banner, for victory
    • Umbrella, for royalty

  4. Either have the students draw their designs with fabric marking pens right onto their colored cloth, or use Safety-Kut or other print-making blocks. They are soft so tools can cut into the material to create an image. Remember the design will be reversed in the printing process.
  5. Apply the ink, sparingly, onto a glass or plexiglass surface and roll well to ink the roller evenly. Roll the ink onto the cut block, lay the fabric on top, rub over the surface of the cloth with a firm smooth object, technically a baren, until the image is barely visible.
  6. After working over the surface, pull the cloth off the block and behold your printed flag. Hang or set aside to dry.

    [Previous Page]

    Table of Contents Home