Walk anywhere in Nepal, and you are bound to see them: strings of fluttering colours. Prayer flags are as ubiquitious as dogs in the streets of Kathmandu.
Each flag is printed with mantras and prayers. The wind is believed to activate the mantras bestowing protection and blessing on the people who put up the flags.
Lung ta (horizontal) prayer flags are of square or rectangular shape, and are connected along their top edges to a long string or thread. They are commonly hung on a diagonal line from high to low between two objects (e.g., a rock and the top of a pole) in high places such as the tops of temples, monasteries, stupas, and mountain passes.
Darchor (vertical) prayer flags are usually large single rectangles attached to poles along their vertical edge. Darchor are commonly planted in the ground, mountains, cairns, and on rooftops, and are iconographically and symbolically related to the Dhvaja.
Traditionally, prayer flags come in sets of five: one in each of five colors.
The five colors are arranged from left to right in a specific order: blue, white, red, green, and yellow. The five colors represent the five elements and the Five Pure Lights. Different elements are associated with different colors for specific traditions, purposes and sadhana. Blue symbolizes the sky and space, white symbolizes the air and wind, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth. According to Traditional Tibetan medicine, health and harmony are produced through the balance of the five elements.
Old prayer flags are replaced with new ones annually on the Tibetan New Year.
Flags fade quickly symbolizing the Buddhist belief in the impermanence of existence.