Polyester prayer flags have been enthusiastically embraced throughout the Himalayas, and throughout Buddhist communities around the world, in the last three decades. Originally, these prayer flags, known as lungta, were intended to carry prayers and blessings on the wind, and were printed as needed in villages and monasteries. Mass production using synthetic fabric and screen printing has made prayer flags more convenient to procure. However, with the discovery of microplastics in the high mountains and concern about rubbish in the glaciers and streams, in the last five years there has been more critical discussion around these convenient prayer flags, and projects that are concerned with returning to traditional knowledge ways that promote sustainability.
We will explore these discussion and projects during two events at Yale in February and March, 2024:
1.A panel, Biodegradable Blessings: Making Prayer Flags, Relatedness, and Himalayan Futures – this panel features prayer flag making activists and scholars who will discuss the debates over synthetic prayer flags and projects they are part of that envision more sustainable futures in the mountains. We will discuss historical examples of prayer flag materials and texts, and reflect on how these aspirations have changed over time to reflect contemporary concerns. We will also discuss work with community-based organizations in India and Nepal who are engaged with the creation of biodegradable prayer flags and consider the broader implications of these debates for the study of religion and ecology.
2.A workshop that will lead participants to make these prayer flags featuring the panelists. The workshop will guide participants in creating prayer flags as a way for them to think about the connected issues of sustainability and waste in global ecosystems, and also as a way to consider the importance of traditional craft knowledge as a method for the study of Buddhism.
In addition, there will be two workshops with visiting panelists on March 1, 2024 and March 2, 2024. More details to come.
Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia is a Lhopo religious studies scholar from west Sikkim in northeast India. He is visiting fellow at the East Asian Studies Center, University of Southern California. He studies relationships between human and more-than-human communities in Sikkim, and makes traditional prayer flags for communities around his home region in west Sikkim.
Amy Holmes-Tagchungdarpa teaches Religious Studies and Asian Studies at Occidental College in Los Angeles, the United States. Originally from Aotearoa, she works on Buddhist material culture in the Himalayas.
Ang Dolma Sherpa is a social entrepreneur who won the top ‘ideator ’ award at Idea Studio Nepal 2019 for her concept of biodegradable khatak. The platform led her to initiate Utpala Craft in 2020 creating a shift from synthetic prayer flags and khatak to biodegradable ones.
Pasang Yangjee Sherpa is a Sharwa anthropologist from Pharak, southern part of Mt. Everest region in northeastern Nepal. Her research, writing and pedagogy focus on climate change and Indigeneity among Himalayan communities, guided by the question: How do we live in the midst of dying? She is an assistant professor of Lifeways in Indigenous Asia, jointly appointed in the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies and the Department of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia, Canada. She is a 2022 Wall Scholar at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies.