Wind vs. Prayer Flags – What’s the difference?

After three days in Bhutan, I find myself constantly learning about the country and its culture. From the teachings of our most wonderful guides Karma and Namguy, I continue to ask questions which helps me to understand the Bhutan culture and Buddhist religion.

Below is some intel on what I have learned about the flags blowing in the wind across the countryside:

Wind Flags: These are the flags we think of as prayer flags, the colourful flags fluttering in the wind, hanging from post to tree, seen in footage of people climbing Mt. Everest. However, in Bhutan these flags are called Wind Flags. There are five different colours for the five different elements.

White: air or space
Red: fire or blessings
Blue: water or loving and kindness
Green: wood or wisdom
Yellow: earth or middle path, which is the path chosen by Buddha to find enlightenment

After you purchase the flags, you are to have them blessed by a religious figure before putting them up on the mountainside in the wind. People will find a high point, on the side of a mountain to hang the flags and this is meant to blow away your worries.

Prayer Flags: These flags look different and serve a different purpose, you would put these up after a loved one has died. These flags are always white and stand on a pole that stands 18 to 20 feet tall (as seen in the picture). After 21 days of mourning a family would then put these up in a windy area of a mountain side. Again, after purchase they must have the flags blessed by a religious figure before putting them up in the wind. There must always be a maximum of 108 poles and flags, this is a religious auspicious number in Bhutan. These flags are set in the wind to purify the area, as well the wind will touch others to give them good karma.

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