Origin of Tibetan Prayer Flag
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Origin of Tibetan Prayer Flag

Update: Feb. 28th, 2013

Prayer Flags

In Tibet, you can see colorful prayer flags everywhere. Same as silver snow mountains, green grassland and golden monasteries, these colorful prayer flags are unique and bright symbol of Tibetan natural and human environment. These prayer flags were printed with scriptures, hence the name prayer flags. In the view of believers of Tibetan Buddhism, prayer flag floating with wind for one time is equal to chant scripture for one time. It is sending people's wishes to God and praying for the blessing of God. Tibetan prayer flag is the link between people and God. It is entrusted with people's beautiful wishes.

There are several different ideas about the origin of Tibetan prayer flag.

Origin of Tibetan Prayer Flag – Custom of Seeing Off

It is said that women often wear sari dress in ancient Indian. When set off their husbands, they torn down a piece of cloth of sari dress and hanged it at the gate of the family or on tree. After long time, the color of sari faded and sent to far places by wind. With the thought of wife, the sari was sent to the husband by wind. When saw this sari, the husband would think of his wife and go back to home. With the prosperous of Buddhism, this kind of sari gradually changed to a piece of colored thin gauze which was printed with Buddha images and scriptures. It gradually changed to present prayer flag.

Origin of Tibetan Prayer Flag – Custom of Military Record

The famous Tibetan scholar Gendun Qiongpei thinks that the military family in Tubo Period stood spear to show their military honor. That's the custom of showing military record in that period. In the period of Songtsen Ganpo, for the convenience of administration, the territory was divided into five districts with different military horse and military flags. Then, prayer flag was changed from this custom and used to this day.

Origin of Tibetan Prayer Flag – Idea of Showing off Military Exploit

According to legends, there was a general who won a battle for Songtsen Ganpo. Songtsen Ganpo was so happy and decided to grant some money and treasure to this general. But it was refused by this general. He said to Songtsen Ganpo that he will be satisfied if Songtsen Ganpo could write his named on the flag. Then, Songtsen Ganpo wrote his name on the flag and granted it to him. Then, the general stuck this flag in front of his house. After this, Songtsen Ganpo often wrote his name on flags and granted to generals who won battles. Then, there were colorful flags weaving in many villages. The colorful flags also become the mark of showing honor. After Buddhism introduced into Tibet, the custom of hanging colorful flags was used by Buddhism. Those Lamas were invited into family to write scripture on prayer flags for families. These prayer flags were hanging at the gate and became the mark of worshipping gods and praying for good luck.

Origin of Tibetan Prayer Flag – Idea of Spreading Scripture

Tibetans think that the tutelary deity of mountains and rivers is the Zan God on heaven and Nian God on earth. They often tour to snow mountains, forest, grassland and canyon by riding a horse to protect Tibet. This idea is showed by images of running horse with "Luobu Moba", incantation and scriptures on prayer flags.

There is a folk legend that a Tibetan monk wetted scriptures on the way back after got scripture from Indian. So, he dried scripture on river bank while sitting under a tree to meditate. Suddenly, he heard the sound of religious gong and horn and felt the breeze on face. The monk achieved supreme enlightenment suddenly. After opened eyes, he found scriptures were blew everywhere. Later, people printed scriptures, incantation and patterns of best wishes on cloth to commemorate this monk. They hanged pieces of cloth between heaven and earth so that Tibetans can be blessed by God.

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