What are these colourful flags?

21st April 2016

Nepal is a land of spirituality. Many would say it is what Nepal is most famous for – well, maybe after Mount Everest. Religion, beliefs and spiritual philosophies are deeply engrained within Nepali culture. And that is what these multi-coloured flags represent. They are called prayer flags and are scattered across the lands of Nepal. Wherever you are – in the midst of the hustle and bustle of Kathmandu or the tranquil rural villages of Gorkha – prayer flags will be in your sight.

Prayer flags in Katmandu fluttering in the wind.
Prayer flags in Katmandu fluttering in the wind.

But what are they? And why are they so important?

A traditional prayer flag come in five different colours, which are ranged in a specific order.   Going from left to right, they are ordered: blue, white, red, green and yellow.  This is not for an aesthetic reason, but for a spiritual one.  These colours represent the five elements – space, air, water, fire and earth. Each element has its own colour:

  • Blue symbolises sky and space
  • White symbolises air and wind
  • Red symbolises fire
  • Green symbolises water
  • Yellow symbolises earth

A common misunderstanding is that prayer flags are used as a tool to carry prayers to the Gods. In fact, the flags symbolise prayers and, with the help of the wind, spread peace, compassion, strength and wisdom over the surrounding landscape.  In order reach areas far and wide, prayer flags are commonly placed at attitude, which Nepal has no shortage of – it is the most mountainous country on earth, after all.

Prayer flags placed high in the mountains to spread peace, compassion, strength and wisdom.

Not only are prayer flags a physical symbol of spirit and tradition, but they also add colour to the natural environment.  They add an extra dimension to the already stunning landscapes that Nepal hosts.

Raleigh volunteers will be submerged within this culture of spirituality and togetherness. They will also learn about Nepali traditions and customs, and become exposed to the values and beliefs of the people.  Learning from other cultures is important. It enables you to gain a different perspective.  As the world renowned philosopher Alan Watts said:

“You don’t understand the basic assumptions of your own culture if your culture is the only one you know”




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