Biodegradable Blessings: Making Prayer Flags, Relatedness, and Himalayan Futures

Event time: 
Thursday, February 29, 2024 - 5:00pm to 7:00pm
Miller Hall (PROS406) See map
406 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Open to: 
General Public
Event description: 

In this panel, prayer flag artists, activists and scholars will discuss the debates over synthetic prayer flags and share their own projects that envision more sustainable futures in the Himalayan mountains.

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.

The speakers will discuss historical examples of prayer flag materials and texts, and a reflection on how these aspirations have changed over time to reflect contemporary concerns. They will share examples of 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.

All are very welcome to join the panel.

On March 1 at 10am and 2pm, we will also offer two workshops at the Yale School of Art where participants can make prayer flags as a way to consider the connected issues of sustainability and waste in global ecosystems, and the importance of traditional craft knowledge as a method for the study of Buddhism.

View further workshop details and register for a workshop session


Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia is a Lhopo religious studies scholar from west Sikkim in northeast India. He is a visiting fellow at the East Asian Studies Center at the 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. 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 in the southern part of the Mount Everest region in northeastern Nepal. Her research, writing, and pedagogy which focuses on climate change and indigeneity among Himalayan communities, is 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. She is a 2022 Wall Scholar at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies.