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 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:
- Divide your class into five groups. Assign each group one of the five
- Discuss what element they think would be appropriate for each color.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
After working over the surface, pull the cloth off the block and behold
your printed flag. Hang or set aside to dry.[Previous Page]