Prayer Flags in Bumthang, Bhutan

Whenever I travel  to the countries in the Himalayas where Tibetan/ Mahayana Buddhism thrives, I’m always enchanted with the ubiquitous sights of fluttering prayer flags and spinning prayer wheels.  They’re such blissful and mystical sights to behold, even if you don’t know exactly what they stand for.  But just what exactly do they mean to the Buddhists? 


Prayer Flags for sale in Kathmandu, Nepal

Rolls of prayer flags for sale in Kathmandu, Nepal

Prayer flags are colorful rectangular pieces of clothes inscribed with prayers, mantras and auspicious symbols. Buddhists believe that the prayer flags generate spiritual vibrations that are released when blown by the wind and the prayers are carried in the air like silent prayers.  Any person and place touched by the wind will be happier and uplifted. (Hmmm…no wonder I’m always happy when I’m in the Himalayas.)

Prayer Flags for sale in Ganden, Tibet

Prayer Flags for sale in Ganden, Tibet

Prayer flags come in horizontal or vertical forms. Horizontal ones called “Wind Horse” are the more common and come in set of five 5 flags in 5 different colors. Each color represents the 5 basic elements: blue for space, white for air, red for fire, green for water and yellow for earth. Buddhists believe that balancing these elements brings harmony to the environment and good health to the body and the mind.

Prayer Flags  next to a holy lake in  Bumthang, Bhutan

Keith under a sea of prayer flags next to a holy lake in Bumthang, Bhutan.

Prayer flags are also use to appease local spirits and gods.  Hence, prayers flags are planted in places where they may reside like mountains, lakes, streams and valleys. 

Prayer Flags in Ganden, Tibet

Prayer flags on a high pass along the trek in Ganden, Tibet

Prayer flags are always seen hanging in high passes and spiritual places like stupas and temples. They are also hanged in any place that people wish to be blessed or protected. 

Prayers Flags on Bodnath Stupa, Kathmandu, Nepal

Prayers Flags hanging on a stupa in Bodnath, Nepal

Vertical Prayers flags  at a temple ground in Punakha, Bhutan

Vertical prayers flags in a temple ground in Punakha, Bhutan

Hanging prayer Flags on the Base Camp of Mt. Everest (North Face), Tibet

Hanging prayer flags in Mt. Everest Base Camp (North Face), Tibet

Prayer flags are said to bring happiness, wish fulfillment, long life and prosperity to the flag planter and those in the vicinity. 
(I met Keith exactly a month after I return from my trip in Tibet in 2006. My friends who traveled with me joked that he was probably my reward for hanging too many prayer flags during the trip.)


A woman spinning a series of prayer wheels in Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

A woman spinning a series of prayer wheels in Swayambhunath Temple, Kathmandu, Nepal

Prayers wheels are cylindrical wheels containing scrolls that are repeatedly inscribed with mantras.   By turning the prayer wheels clockwise,  it is believed that the mantras inside are activated and released. The mantras are said to purify negatvity, generate compassion, remove barriers to enlightenment and bring benefit to all sentient beings.

Prayer Wheels in Punakha Dzong, Bhutan

Keith spinning a giant prayer wheel in Punakha Dzong, Bhutan

Buddhists believe that mindfully spinning a prayer wheel produces the same benefits and merits as orally reciting the number of mantras inside the prayer wheel. The more revolution one makes the greater the merits. 

A woman circumambulating around a series of prayer wheels in Tashilhunpo, Tibet

A woman circumambulating around a series of prayer wheels in Tashilhunpo, Tibet

 Prayers wheels come in big cylinder or a series of smaller cylinders. They are normally made of brass, wood, tin or stone. Prayers wheels also come in handheld and table top forms

Giant brass prayer wheels at a monastery in Sakya, Tibet

Monks next to giant brass prayer wheels at a monastery in Sakya, Tibet

Wooden prayers wheels in Trongsa, Bhutan

Wooden prayers wheels in Trongsa, Bhutan

Handheld prayer wheels for sale in Lhasa, Tibet

Handheld prayer wheels for sale in Lhasa, Tibet

Women spinning handheld prayers wheels in Lhasa, Tibet

Pilgrims spinning handheld prayer wheels in Lhasa, Tibet

A woman spinnin a prayer wheel while circumambulating a stupa in Bodnath, Nepal

A woman spinning a prayer wheel while circumambulating a stupa in Bodnath, Nepal.

Prayer Wheel Iphone App

Prayer Wheel Iphone App

On this modern age of technology come some convenient forms of prayer wheels like the ones that can be run by electricity.  It also comes in a form of an Iphone App! (The wheel in the app will rotate if you move your iphone in circling motion or it will spin by itself with a push of a button.) I’m not sure though how effectively these high-tech wheels can benefit all sentient beings. But I think its better that people try find a place for them in this extreme techno era rather than leave them behind.

May  peace and happiness be upon you by just reading this blog post about prayer flags and prayer wheels  :) 


Linking to Travel Photo Thursday and Oh, the PLACES I’ve been!.


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About Marisol

Taking you on our journey one photo - and footstep - at a time.

44 responses to “The Mystic of Prayer Flags and Prayer Wheels

  1. Wow. Great series of photos from powerful places, Marisol! Next time I will remember your proof, I mean Keith :) and pray as well. Or maybe I just need to install Prayer Wheel iPhone App! should be easier 😉
    memographer recently posted..I Was Here! Postcard-PhotosMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Alex, thanks. Glad you enjoyed it. Ha! Ha! Yes, getting the app won’t hurt for the meantime while you’re waiting for the opportunity to get close to the real thing.

  2. Mike

    Ever since I watched Beyond The Limit (climbing Everest) I’ve been absolutely mesmerized by prayer flags. And the first time I remember a prayer wheel was actually in the movie Golden Child! Fantastic photos you guys and I’m so envious of your trip. It’s high, high (no pun intended) on my list. Thank you! :)
    Mike recently posted..My Top 10 +1 Favorite British ActorsMy Profile

    • Marisol

      HI Mike, these high, high places deserve to be really high on your list! Glad you enjoyed the photos. Thanks for visiting.

    • Marisol

      Hello Sarah, thank you! I’m so pleased that you enjoyed the post:)

  3. Excellent informative post, Marisol. The first time I’ve seen and touched the prayer wheels was in Mahabodhi Temple in Bodh Gaya, India, where Buddha reached Enlightenment. I made a wish there, hope it will come true. Those giant prayer wheels are amazing!
    Aleah | recently posted..Backpacking India in 3 WeeksMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Thanks Aleah! I really hope so, too! They said that if you make the wish straight from the heart, it will likely come true:)

    • Marisol

      Hi Marcia, my pleasure. Yes, the sound can be really calming.

    • Marisol

      Thanks Rachel. Yes, those places are magical indeed.

  4. Johanna

    What an interesting post, and so colourful. I wish I had a collection of prayer flags strung in my balinese style garden, as they would make it so colourful and I could stop at each one and reflect and meditate! I remember the stupa at Bodnath in Nepal so well. Thanks for reminding me of our days in the Himalayas! (On my other blog, Lifestyle Fifty, I recently had a 60 year old women post about climbing to Everest Base Camp too, so your photo reminded me of that – well done you for reaching it!)

    • Marisol

      Hi Jo, thanks! I remember your lovely Balinese garden from your previous post. Yes, some sets of prayer flags would add some sense of blissfulness to it:) I wish I have a garden like yours to hang mine. (Kudos to that 60- year old woman! I’ll check out your other blog and read about it.)

  5. Leigh

    I think there is a real meditative quality to spinning a prayer wheel or walking around a building for hours at a time. You have some phenomenal people shots and I love all the prayer flag photos. Interesting the connection between hanging a prayer flag and meeting Keith. What will come after this trip? How many prayer flags did you hang?
    Leigh recently posted..Exploring Nova Scotia’s South Shore by BicycleMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Leigh, It is indeed a good form of meditation and worship for the Buddhists. Glad you enjoyed the photos. We only got to strung 5 sets of prayer flags during the Bhutan trip. We look forward to what will come of it :)

  6. Agness

    This post reminded me of my first stay in Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet. We were not very familiar with local religion, but we read a lot about these prayer flags and prayer wheels. We loved them all and their meaning is so deep. It’s inredible how colorful Lhasa looked like, similarly to Nepal, and how religious people can be!
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    • Marisol

      Hi Agness, glad you appreciate them, too. Most photos here were actually in Tibet that’s why you were reminded so much of Lhasa:)

  7. There’s an app for that! How interesting. I don’t remember seeing any prayer wheels in Lhasa as big as the one you photographed. All the prayer flags that we saw were so tattered and faded. I didn’t see any as vibrant as the ones you show. My son would have loved to have gone to Mt. Everest Base Camp but we didn’t have the time or, it turns out, the ability to acclimate to the altitude. I like the idea that the prayer flags brought Keith into your life.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Little India Preps for DeepavaliMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Michelle, We saw those giant prayer wheels in remote monasteries in Tibet. You have to go out of Lhasa, to the countryside to see prayer flags galore. Although I saw plenty of them in Potola. I believe that a lot more of Tibetans are being pushed out of Lhasa by the Han Chinese and some traditional practices are no longer evident in the city. The day I left Tibet in 2006 was the day they inaugurated the train service from mainland China into Tibet. It was a very sad day. Everyone knew that Lhasa would never be the same. I just wish that the countrysides I fell in love with still maintain their authentic Tibetan route.

    • Marisol

      Hi Kat, thanks! I know, such an age were in.

  8. What an interesting post. My first encounter with a prayer wheel was in the Singapore Buddha Tooth Relic Temple :) Then later when we visited Kathmandu. Lovely photos Marisol!
    Rosemarie recently posted..Walking Down Curetes Street – EphesusMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Thanks Rosemarie! I haven’t been to the Tooth Relic Temple in Singapore. Will have to check it next time. Thanks for dropping by.

  9. This is really interesting! I’ve always thought they looked pretty but never made an effort to learn any more about them. Thanks for enlightening me! As for the iPhone app, I can’t say I’m surprised! It does seem a bit ridiculous though!
    Arianwen recently posted..Wine Tasting in the Hunter ValleyMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Arianwen, you’re welcome. I know, there seem nothing that Apps would touch!

  10. I have always been intrigued by prayer flags and prayer wheels – I can only image the calming piece they must bring. I hope one day I will be able to experience them first hand.
    I have been away for a few weeks, and am pleased to be back and catching up with your amazing travel tales.
    Have a wonderful week.

    • Marisol

      Hi Jill, welcome back! They certainly have some calming effect and I hope you get to experience it for yourself sometime soon.

  11. I love the thought that prayer flags release spiritual vibrations when they blow in the wind – what a beautiful concept! Your photographs just keep getting better and better. I especially love the one of the monks next to the large prayer wheels – the scale and the colors are mesmerizing!
    Dana Carmel @ Time Travel Plans recently posted..Virginia: All Signs Point to Hampton RoadsMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Hi Dana, yes such a beautiful concept, isn’t it? Thanks, glad you enjoyed the photographs.

  12. Andrea

    So you’ve just been to Tibet lately? You’re visiting all the places i want to see, the only one place you haven’t is Machu Picchu. I might not be able to see Tibet in this lifetime, as acclimatizing might be difficult for me already! A friend already brought home for me a metal handheld prayer wheel, however i just don’t know which box i’ve stored it! Now i should find it!
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    • Marisol

      Hi Andrea, the Tibet trip was actually from 2006 and I hope to go back soon. I hope you make it there in this lifetime:) I’ve actually been to Machu Picchu twice. I have a post of the last trip here. Hope you find your prayer wheel soon:)

  13. So beautiful Marisol… thank you for taking us with you… this is a place i would love to visit, but my health will not allow it.

    • Marisol

      Thanks Laura, I’m glad we were able to take you virtually to a place you would love to visit. Maybe one day you’ll get to go, you’ll never know.

  14. Wonderful post and photos! I always wondered about the history and meaning of those beautiful prayer flags… thank you for visiting my blog, so happy to discover yours :)
    Catherine recently posted..Art is a Basic NeedMy Profile

    • Marisol

      Thanks Catherine. Nice discovering you as well.

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