Buddhist practice and Buddhist art have been inseparable in the Himalayas ever since Buddhism arrived to the region in the eighth century. But for the casual observer it can be difficult to make sense of the complex iconography. Not to worry—Himalayan art scholar Jeff Watt is here to help. In this “Himalayan Buddhist Art 101” series, Jeff is making sense of this rich artistic tradition by presenting weekly images from the Himalayan Art Resources archives and explaining their roles in the Buddhist tradition.
Prayer Flags, Part 2
Prayer Flags in Tibet are called lungta (“wind horse”). Traditionally, the flags would always be recognizable by the drawings of a horse at the center of the composition surrounded by four other animals—a lion, tiger, bird, and dragon. Many modern prayer flags have, however, replaced the horse with other subjects, such as popular deities and teachers like Padmasambhava. One very popular example is the prayer flag depicting the quasi-mythical Tibetan hero King Gesar. The newer personalized flags generally retain the four surrounding animals in the four corners—sometimes by their written names instead of images.