The hoisting of flags to ensure good fortune is one of the many
 customs within the nomadic communities of Tibet that have changed very
 little for several thousand years. However, the meaning of this ritual
 has gradually evolved from being of militaristic to religious
      That the original use of flags in Tibet was militaristic is
 illustrated by the term Ru-dar or banner. Ru refers to gathering of
 nomads before moving on together to fresh pastures and thus, in an
 archaic sense this assembly referred to a kind of army. The banners
 (ru-dar) found in ancient literature were military flags. The flying of
 flags began to acquire religious significance in the Bon tradition and
 it may be observed that the actual design of the flags also gradually
 changed. In the corners of some of these flags were images of a tiger,
 a snow lion, a garuda, and a dragon, and in the center was a horse,
 around which was written a Bon mantra and a line which read, "May the
 horse of good fortune run fast and increase the power of life,
 influence, fortune, wealth, health, and so forth."
      This writing of mantras on cloth to produce a flag of religious
 significance can be traced to the immaculate g.Yung-drung-gtsang-ma-
 zhang-zhung, a collection of Bonpo teachings, which say that when a
 mantra is wrapped in five colored silk and placed high in the
 mountains, it will provide whoever sees it with the good fortune to
 become enlightened. If you attach a mantra wrapped in this way to the
 top of a victory banner and pray to it, worship it, and make precious
 offerings to it, then, according to tradition, you will accomplish all
 your goals. The meaning of this Bon mantra needs further investigation.
      The protective power of mantras is illustrated by the following
 story. When Buddha was in the Thirty-third realm of the gods, seated on
 a flat stone, as white as his clothes, Indra, king of the Gods, came
 and prostrated before him. Indra explained that he and the gods of the
 Thirty-third realm had suffered a great defeat at the hands of
 Vemchitra, the king of the anti-gods, and he asked Buddha what he
 should do. Buddha told him to memorize the mantra contained in the
 prayer Ornament at the Crest of the Victory Banner. Buddha explained
 that he had received this mantra from the Tathagata known as
 Irrepressible and had himself taught it to many disciples. He said that
 since the time that he learned the mantra he could not remember even a
 moment when he felt fear or terror, so he told Indra to carry this
 mantra into battle to ensure victory.
      Great masters have written ritual texts praising the Dra-lha, a
 deity who helps in overcoming obstacles and enemies, and the hoisting
 of Dra-lha flags is meant to cause the Dharma to flourish and to
 promote the welfare of all sentient beings, especially those who engage
 in these rituals. in an old Dra-lha story, the gods were enjoying the
 fruits of the wish-fulfilling tree, which grew in the valley of Mt.
 Meru. As the tree was rooted in the realm of the anti-gods, they
 claimed that the fruit was also theirs, and a battle ensued. Indra went
 to Vajrapani and asked him for assistance. Vajrapani told Indra to
 invite the brothers of Dra-lha and to ask for their help. Nine weapons
 and nine deities then appeared from the great ocean. Through the
 worship of these deities Indra was able to defeat the anti-gods and
 achieve victory.
      There are many types of Tibetan flags, for example the dar-ding, a
 long string of flags flown horizontally between trees or buildings, and
 the dar-chen, a narrow flag which is flown from a pole.
      Tibetan prayer flags can be of any of these 5 colors, blue, white,
 red, green, and yellow, which symbolize the sky, clouds, fire, water,
 and earth respectively. If we relate these colors to the physical
 elements then the blue symbolizes water, green symbolizes wood, red
 fire, and white iron. There is also a tradition of flying flags which
 represent the elements of your own body.
      Flags are flown on auspicious days such as Sunday, Monday,
 Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and when the stars are in auspicious
 arrangements according to Tibetan almanac.
      Flags are flown by families from all economic backgrounds, and
 they are flown on such important occasions as the third day of the
 Tibetan new year, marriages, and official functions. Flags are also
 hoisted in the event of interferences, or illness, in order to avert
 further misfortunes.
      In some parts of Tibet, during the wedding ceremony, the guests
 gather on the roof of the grooms house and preform a ritual in which
 the bride touches the prayer flags. These flags are then hoisted on the
 building housing the protectors near the site for making incense
 offerings, and from that moment the bride becomes a member of her new
 family. After the first year of marriage the bride returns to her home
 and again preforms the same ceremony and in so doing she separates
 herself from her original family.
      Flags are used as protection against harm when traveling. Before
 passengers enter a boat to cross a river, they preform a ceremony in
 which flags are attached to the horse shaped figurehead at the bow of
 the boat. Prayers are said and incense and grain are offered to the
 gods. In this way they insure safe passage across the river.
      Originally, flag ceremonies were intended to provide benefit in
 this life, but as they gradually became more imbued with religious
 meaning, they came to be associated with benefit in future lives and
 the achievement of spiritual as opposed to material success. Although
 the actual ceremonies and rituals have changed very little, the
 significance or content of the rituals has gradually evolved a
 spiritual element through a mixture of Bon and Buddhist symbolism.
 (transcribed from "ME-LONG, The Newsletter of the Council for Religious
 and Cultural Affairs of H.H. the Dalai Lama, No. 7, December 1990)