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Buddhist Flags (Thailand)

Last modified: 2018-11-06 by zachary harden
Keywords: buddhism | religion | dharma wheel flag | thong dhammacak | chakra | wheel (red) |
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Dharma Wheel Flag (Thong Dhammacak)

[Buddhist Flag (Thailand)] 2:3 image by Phanuwit Woonchoomand Zachary Harden, 17 December 2016

In Thailand there were often two flags used in parades and other celebrations. The Thai National Flag was used everywhere (...). The other flag was saffron coloured with a red wheel similar to the wheel on the Indian flag except much larger. It was explained to me that it symbolized Buddhism, the national religion; or the Chakri (Royal) family; or loyalty to the King. Given the colour of the field I would bet on the Buddhism theme.

Phil Abbey, 17 September 1998

That is the Thong Dhammacak (Dharma Wheel Flag) – yellow flag with a red Dhammacak at the center. This the flag of Thai Buddhism.

Wisarut Bholsithi, 29 October 1999

The Thai Buddhist flag is a red wheel in the center on yellow background which is hoisted in most Thai temples. The shade of yellow is the same as of Thai Monks clothes or that used in the Sri Lankan flag.

Nozomi Kariyasu, 10 August 2001

I recently brought back this flag from Thailand. It is a religious (Buddhist) flag.

Ya'ara Gutterman, 21 September 2001

The Thai Buddhist flag – yellow background with a red wheel in the center represents the Dhamma Chakka or Wheel of Dhamma, which was set in motion by the Buddha during the First Sermon (see the Dhammachakka Sutta). All Buddhist countries in the world use the six-coloured flag, with few variations, created in the late 1800s and approved during the Sixth Great Council in Burma. Thailand, however, declined to use this flag and opted for the Dhamma Wheel.

Bhante Kantasilo, 12 June 2003

Vertical display

[Buddhist Flag (Thailand)] image by Phanuwit Woonchoomand Zachary Harden, 17 December 2016

In a November 2018 ceremony at a Red Cross station in Bangkok, a vertical version of the Thai Buddhist flag was displayed between two national flags. The only difference that I could see is that the emblem was moved higher to the top so it could be easily seen from the side. Many of the royal chypher flags do the same thing when used at ceremonies or graduations.
Zachary Harden, 6 November 2018


Variant Flag

[Buddhist Flag (Thailand)] 2:3 image by Phanuwit Woonchoomand Zachary Harden, 30 October 2017

A second flag is used by Buddhists in Thailand. From what I was told, it used in the north and uses the Aum (Om) symbol in the middle of the dharmachakra (Dharma Wheel). However, a video that was published by TV Burabha at https://youtu.be/MlrqQITHHwY?t=7m52s (Thai language only) shows this variant being sold at Saphan Wan Chat, a district in Bangkok that is famous for their flag shops and iconary related to the late King and other members of the Thai Royal Family.
Zachary Harden, 22 November 2016

This variant seems to be more of an older style from what I have discovered. FOTW member Suttipong Phuensaen mailed me a book called "Thai Flags" (2530 BE, 1987) it shows this flag (upside down, I discovered) and calls it the main Buddhist flag in Thailand. When the change over happened is not something I am certain on or why.
Zachary Harden, 01 July 2018


Doi Tung (Flag Mountain)

The Doi Tung (1,322 m) is a mountain located on the border between Thailand and Myanmar, in the province of Chang Rai. In Thai, Doi Tung means "Flag peak" or "Flag mountain", depending on the sources. King Achutarat of Chian Saen ordered to hoist a huge flag on the top of the mountain, to recall two Buddhist monuments built there in 911. The mountain was therefore called the "Flag mountain".

The mountain is now the place of a Buddhist pilgrimage. The Doi Tung Royal Estate was built at the bottom of the mountain in Swiss style for the late Royal Princess, the mother of King Rama IX. The Princess died in 1995 and the house was transformed into a foundation promoting alternatives to poppy cultivation. Doi Tung is not far from the too famous Golden Triangle. The area is inhabited by moutainous minorities who left Mynamar, e.g. Lahu, Akha and Shan.

Source: Amethyste website

Doi Tung is now a popular tourist destination and the mountain is shown on several commercial websites. There does not seem to be any flag permanently hoisted over the mountain – maybe only on pilgrimage day(s).
Ivan Sache, 30 September 2003

Bodhisattva Guan-in Flags

[Goddess Guan-in Flag (Thailand)] 1:1
[Goddess Guan-in Flag (Thailand)] 1:1
 
 
image by Roman Kogovsek, 24 June 2003

image by Roman Kogovsek, 24 June 2003

 
 

I have seen this flag in two color variations in a temple of the goddess Guan-in, near the town of Krabi, Southern Thailand.
Roman Kogovsek, 24 June 2003

Curious: those characters are Chinese. Is there an overseas Chinese community in Krabi?
Albert Kirsch, 25 June 2003

The Chinese characters do not imply the presence or otherwise of an "overseas" Chinese community in Krabi.

Besides this, Guan Yin is a Chinese god (not a goddess, I am reliably informed by one of his devotees) and it is quite standard throughout South East Asia to find Chinese characters liberally employed in places of worship and, as in this case, on flags and banners.
Peter Johnson, 25 June 2003

Kuan Yin (or however you spell it; Kannon or Kanzeon in Japanese) is a bodhisattva, Avalokiteshvara in Sanskrit. Not a god or a goddess, though in China he/she often is shown as a woman. He is the "bodhisattva of compassion", sometimes shown as male with 1000 arms, sometimes as a woman and dubbed (in the West) the "goddess of mercy". Those statues are the ones often found in souvenir shops. Tibetans are more likely to show him as male, I think.
Albert Kirsch, 25 June 2003

The ideograms on the flags are Chinese, meaning "Kuan Yin Bodhisattva." See Wikipedia for more details.
Miles Li, 3 October 2006


Use of the international Buddhist flag

[Buddhist Flag] image by António Martins-Tuválkin, 27 November 2001

While the Dharma Wheel Flag, regardless of its variant, is indeed the most frequently used symbol of Buddhism in Thailand, the international Buddhist flag is sometimes used as well. This site shows the international flag used together with the national flag. The photos showing the joint use of national flag and both Buddhist flags can be found here and here.
Tomislav Todorovic 01 July 2018

The use of the five color flag is not illegal, it is just uncommon. These garlands are very common displays during ceremonies or at temples inside. Many times it would be the Thai/Dharmachakra, both Buddhist flags together but some flag companies will have a "merit making kit" where laypersons can donate all three flags to temples as a way to support a temple and make "merit" for themselves or for another person. The flags can also be bought solo and bought very cheaply. Internationally, these flags can be paired with the host country flag. For example, Wat Arkansas Buddhavanaram, in Fort Smith, Arkansas, uses all three flags plus the US flag as part of a garland inside of the temple.
Zachary Harden 01 July 2018

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