Prayer flags NepalOn my first trip to Nepal many years ago, I was struck by symbols of Buddhism almost everywhere. Following the lead of my Sherpa guides, I learned to pass or circumambulate prayer wheels and mani walls on my right side and to spin the prayer wheels for good luck. On my recent stay in the country, I saw this impressive grouping of a prayer wheel, a wall of mani stones and prayer flags, all in one place, positioned in the middle of the trekking trail. Spruce branches are burned in the small incense burner to the right of the mani stones.

Prayer flags

Prayer flags Nepal
Prayer flag

Prayer flags are a happy, frequent sight all over Nepal where Buddhists reside. I remember them fondly from my first trip to Nepal. They are colorful and fluttering in the wind, they just made me happy.

Block-printed with auspicious symbols, prayers and mantras, prayer flags often come in sets of five. The colors represent the elements: yellow–earth, green–water, red–fire, white–air, blue–space.

Traditionally, prayer flags are thought to bring benefit to all, promoting peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. Tibetan Buddhists believe the prayers and mantras are blown by the wind to spread good will and compassion into all pervading space.

Prayer flags Nepal
Prayer flags against a cloud-filled sunset in Kathmandu
Prayer flags Nepal
Suspension bridges across Nepal’s many rivers are often lined with the brightly colored prayer flags.

Prayer wheels

Prayer wheels—also known as mani wheels—are used to accumulate wisdom and merit (good karma) and to purify negativities (bad karma). Each wheel is decorated with a mantra, written in a clockwise direction, that of the movement of the sun across the sky. There are rolls of prayers and scripture inside the wheel. Devotees spin the wheels in a clockwise direction.

Prayer flags Nepal
These heavy prayer wheels in Kathmandu have handy “spinners” at their base, to help you give them a turn.
Prayer flags Nepal
This weighty prayer wheel stands along the Everest Base Camp trekking route. You can see that someone has painted arrows on the base to show trekkers on which side to pass and which way to spin the wheel. This wheel is about a meter across, the silver ring is to help you spin the wheel. It is quite heavy because it is filled with prayers written on paper and animal hides.
Prayer flags Nepal
This purpose-built niche contains 108 prayer wheels. It separates the “lanes” of the road between Jomsom and Marpha in the Lower Mustang Valley, making it simple for travelers in both directions to spin the prayer wheels.

Mani stones

Mani stones are stones on which mantras or devotional designs are inscribed, so called because they revolve around the familiar mantra “om mani padme hum”. Mani stone carving can be quite simple, or very intricate, carved into slate or other stone, and sometimes painted. In all cases, they represent a significant investment of dedication, time and effort. According to Buddhist doctrine, mani walls should be passed or circumambulated from their left side, in the clockwise direction with which the earth and the universe revolve.

Prayer flags Nepal
This mani stone outside the Chhairo Gompa near Marpha is about 50 centimeters (18 inches) wide.
Prayer flags Nepal
This mani stone is of slate, very smooth, giving the finished carving a modernistic look.
Prayer flags Nepal
Mani walls—constructions of mani stones—can be just a few stones or several meters long and high.
Prayer flags Nepal
When I was in Nepal almost 40 years ago, there were very few large stones that had been carved but today they are a frequent sight.
Prayer flags Nepal
This young man was my guide on a trek from Namche Bazaar to Lukla, where we met again at his grandmother’s house. He had painted this set of stones carved by his grandfather. Formerly a monk, he learned to paint the mani stone designs during the his training. Just painting the color onto the stones took him a week.

Prayer flags were traditionally printed using wood blocks carved with mantras. Today, although they are printed commercially, they are as beautiful and meaningful as ever. By contrast, the collective effort and time required to carve mani stones and walls is significant. Similarly prayer wheels demand devotion and time to prepare the prayers, and decorate the wheels.

Will you be traveling to Nepal? When you go, be sure to pass the prayer wheels and mani walls on your right hand side. Enjoy the beauty of fluttering prayer flags!

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