Wherever you go in Bhutan, it is impossible not to see prayer flags. Apart from seeing them near religious sites, you see them on the roof of houses, you can see them in the streets, and you can spot a row of prayer flags in a valley, and definitely on a mountain pass. While it is very common to see strings of small, square prayer flags hung between trees or houses, the traditional Bhutanese prayer flag is vertical and mounted on a pole. Mostly, you can see both kinds of prayer flags together in the same place, although it is also common to see a group of tall poles with white prayer flags all along the pole.
The prayer flag supposedly originated in India, where prayers were written on cloth, which were then used as banners in battles, to influence the adversaries. Prayer flags were introduced in Tibet, from where they also arrived in Bhutan. They have been an important part of Bhutanese tradition for centuries. They can be mounted for several reasons. Often, they are mounted for happiness and longevity, luck and prosperity. In Bhutan, brightly coloured prayer flags are very common. They come in blue, red, green, yellow and white, representing sky, fire, water, earth, and air, respectively. Moreover, they stand for the five wisdoms of Buddhism, the five directions, the five meditation Buddhas, and the five emotions.
Then, there are the tall, vertical flags which come in white. The wooden pole has a redi, represeting a traditional knife, on top. The white vertical flags come in groups of sometimes tens of flags closely standing one next to the other. They look more serene compared to the joyful appearance of the colourful, square or rectangular ones. The fluttering of the flags in the wind makes for a simple, yet impressive sound. Prayer flags are nearly always printed with prayers. Erecting prayer flags is considered a good deed for a Buddhist: the merits can be shared by everyone as the wind spreads the prayers of the flag through the air. Prayer flags are also erected for the dead. Moreover, they are erected to scare off demons near dangerous or holy places. Wherever you go in Bhutan, you can see prayer flags - and they are a peaceful sight.
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