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Lungta: Wind Horse

Lungta (རླུང་རྟ་), or wind horse, is a pan-Himalayan cultural concept denoting good fortune and success. Like the concepts of la (བླ་), the life essence, yang (གཡང་), the wealth essence, or wangthang (དབང་ཐང་), charisma, lungta is an intangible inner trait that influences the wellbeing of a person. When one’s lungta is running high, one is healthy, lucky, successful and prosperous. When one’s lungta is low or diminished, one is prone to problems and misfortunes. Lungta can be enhanced in numerous ways, the most popular method of which being the hoisting of the prayer flags bearing insignias and prayers meant to cultivate lungta. Thus, the prayer flag printed with the image of the wind horse and four other animals is itself called the lungta.          

The wind represents swiftness while the jewel-bearing horse symbolizes the fulfillment of wishes. However, an alternative and perhaps an earlier version, renders lungta as space or river horse (ཀླུང་རྟ་). Some scholars argue the term ‘lung’ originated from the Chinese word for dragon, thus ‘lung ma’ for dragon horse, but it is not yet clear how this evolved into lungta or wind horse. They speculate that as the two words for dragon in Chinese and wind in Tibetan are homonyms, the term lungta may have been popularly recorded as རླུང་རྟ་ or wind horse.

The main methods for enhancing lungta energy consists of chanting prayers and hoisting specific flags that bear the images of five animals: a horse, a lion, a tiger, a garuda and a dragon. Surrounding the images are prayers and mantras, and the flags are hung on ropes or poles in high places. In Tibet, they are also printed on small pieces of paper and thrown to the wind. At the centre is a swiftly trotting steed carrying three jewels on its back. To the east is a valourous lion with a turquoise mane, and to the south is a vibrant dragon with copper-coloured fangs. In the west is a courageous tiger with red spots and in the north is a strong garuda with a jewel crest. The wind horse represents the element of space, while the tiger represents wind, the lion earth, the dragon water, and the garuda fire. These animals also feature prominently in Chinese geomancy as figures associated with the cardinal directions.

According to tradition, on an inner level, the five animals symbolize the inner qualities of a person. The horse symbolizes diligence, the tiger determination, the lion courage, the garuda strength, and the dragon esteem. These are human qualities which are essential for success in life. The five figures are also said to symbolize the five major kinds of vital energies (རླུང་ལྔ་) which exist in the human body. They are the life sustaining (སྲོག་འཛིན་), pervading (ཁྱབ་བྱེད་), balancing (མེ་མཉམ་), upward flowing (གྱེན་རྒྱུ་), and downward clearing (ཐུར་སེལ་) energies. As the wellbeing of a person primarily rests in the state of the mind and the condition of the mind is influenced by the condition of the vital energies, it is important to properly maintain those vital energies. In order to do so, people chant prayers to the gods who help enhance lungta energy, or they hoist lungta flags.

Lungta flags are printed on plain white cloth or on cloths of five colours, hues that symbolize the five elements of space, air, fire, water and earth. Sometime, a person chooses a specific colour flag because it is astrologically suitable to him- or herself. The flags may also be decorated with small additional flaps of five coloured fabric that further symbolize the elements. The flags are consecrated by chanting prayers and the verses of dependent origination, and then on an auspicious day, they are hoisted on mountain passes, hilltops, rooftops, or other places considered clean and pure. As the flags are believed to be sacred, it is taboo to treat them with disrespect or desecrate them by stepping on them, throwing them in the rubbish, or using them for mundane purposes.

The lungta, in essence, is the inner ability to succeed and flourish. It is the state of having positive energy alongside physical equilibrium and psychological composure and clarity. External rituals and raising of prayer flags are simply measures to enhance or cultivate such states.


Karma Phuntsho is the Director of Shejun Agency for Bhutan’s Cultural Documentation and Research, the President of the Loden Foundation and the author of The History of Bhutan. The piece was initially published in Bhutan’s national newspaper Kuensel in a series called Why We Do What We Do.


Lungta: Wind Horse

An introduction to lungta (rlung rta), an intangible human trait that can be cultivated through various rituals, including raising/throwing of prayer flags bearing particular symbolic imagery.

Collection Bhutan Cultural Library
Visibility Public - accessible to all site users (default)
Author Karma Phuntsho
Editor Ariana Maki
Year published 2017
Original year published 2016
UID mandala-texts-39421