Sunday, 14 July 2013

Prayer flags

When my neighbours (behind my garden wall) moved in, I immediately knew that they were of Indian heritage.
They erected a group of prayer flags to the back of their property which fluttered in the wind.  The flags were pretty, but since they were so close to my property, many visitors to my home always thought they were my flags, and would ask what they were there for.
Upon closer inspection they would realise that the flags were not on my property at all.

Prayer flags (Jhandis) flying high on bamboo poles in my neighbour's garden

Many years passed, and the elements took their toll on the flags until they stood tattered and torn.
A couple of weeks ago, I saw that new flags had been installed on taller bamboo poles. They can now be seen from further away.  They also look as if they're now a part of my garden more than ever.
Closer view depicting the deities
Once again my friends were asking the meaning of the flags.   Never knowing what answer to give, about the relevance, I decided to carry out my own investigation.  Hello Google my friend!

In the Caribbean we have many descendants from bygone days of slavery. When slavery ended in 1834, suddenly there was no more cheap labour available on the plantations.  It was then that East Indians were lured to work on the plantations. They arrived in the Caribbean as indentured labourers between 1838 -1917.
150,000 went to Trinidad
250,000 went to Guyana 
(With island migration, they are now spread throughout the Caribbean, including Barbados.)

They also brought along their religious beliefs (mostly Hindu) with them.  Elements of their surviving Indian culture included erecting prayer flags (Jhandis) outside their homes.  The flags are used as part of religious ceremonies, symbols of faith, and a way to show pride in being Hindi.

 Each flag is dedicated to a particular deity. Each deity is the embodiment of a particular characteristic. For example, Saraswati is the giver of knowledge, learning and inspiration and Lakshmi is the giver of wealth and prosperity.

Active Hindus will offer their prayers and Mantras to these deities (divas or devis) and place a flag in the ground. Placing the proper prayer may help with many of life's hurdles, like good health after sickness, or finding another job after being fired.
Once the flags are in the ground, they cannot be removed. The only way they can be collected is after time, or if they either break or fall over.

Prayer flags are said to bring happiness, long life and prosperity to the person who planted the flag and to those in the vicinity. 
This may very well be the reason why Brazen loves to sit on the corner of my garden wall.

According to the website, the prayer flag tradition is an ancient one and dates back thousands of years in India and to the shamanistic Bon tradition of pre-Buddhist Tibet. Bonpo priests used solid coloured cloth flags, maybe with their magical symbols, to aid in balancing both internal and external elements. The 5 colors of prayer flags represent the 5 basic elements: yellow-earth, green–water, red-fire, white-air, blue-space. Balancing these elements externally brings harmony to the environment. Balancing the elements internally brings health to the body and the mind.

I also came across this article - all neighbours are not created equal apparently.

There are also pet prayer flags available.  Who knew??


  1. Oh I can see where it wouldn't be too bad when they were new, but as they get old and raggedy you might not want them there. At the moment I have my neighbors hedge getting rather too big and blocking the afternoon sun from reaching my veggie patch. I have the conundrum - do I prune the ones i can reach or leave them be? The neighbours are away.

    1. What conundrum? I trim my neighbour's hedge all the time from my side, if not his blighty hibiscus plants will infect my croton plants. Granted though, I do it when he's at work. He's not much into gardening, so I don't think he knows his hedge needs trimming, so I help him out. No conundrum for me. I also bait over his side of the wall with snail pellets, to stop them from coming into my garden from his side.
      So my dear, get a ladder and get to

  2. I wouldn't have a problem with them. Even when they grow tatty they give one a story to tell visitors who enquire about them.
    The chap next door to us has a Cross of St George flag - usually a sign that they are extreme right wing (you know - England for the English sort of thing!). I may not agree with his approach to life but I would happily defend his right to fly whatever flag he wanted. Similarly, if he were Polish I would have no objection to a Polish flag, etc, etc.

    1. I have no problem either, it's just that the flags are being displayed to the back of their property (hidden from front view) and they more appear to be my flags than theirs.
      From what I understand, they're supposed to be displayed at the front of the house, so maybe they're skeptical about doing so fearing what the neighbours may think of them.

  3. Well I've learned a quite a lot from that and from where it led me. It would be rather academic here on Lewis because the wind would shred them in a single winter. Or if it's like this summer in a single summer.

    1. On Lewis, the prayer flags would need to be changed twice a year...a seasonal ritual so to speak? Here they last quite a while before a change is needed.

  4. I dont think I had heard of prayer flags before. Quite interesting

    1. Most Indians have them planted in front of their homes. When you're here again, check as you drive around. Sometimes it's just one large red flag flying merrily at the front entrance.

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  6. Our neighbors have them in their front yard, and some have become very tattered. I was thinking about asking them to take down the most tattered as they look pretty bad, but I guess that's not acceptable so I won't. Maybe I'll just ask them to take better care of their yard as it is also looking very tattered as well. ��


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