At the heart of symbolism

The flag of Bhutan

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Flag of Bhutan

The colours of the flag

The white colour of the dragon represents the visible light, source of all colours of the rainbow spectrum. Therefore, it symbolizes the Principle of the manifestation of colours in particular and everything in general.

The two background colours of the flag, divided diagonally, are associated with the spiritual and temporal power: the lower portion, orangey-red, for royal authority and the upper one, orangey-yellow, for Buddhist spiritual authority.

  • As the “upper arch” of the rainbow spectrum, red corresponds to the highest rank of the temporal power, a role traditionally devoted to the king.
  • As the warmest colour of the rainbow spectrum, yellow is related to sun and gold, two symbols of the spiritual influence. In various traditions, it represents the transmission of the spiritual authority to the king.
  • As a mix of red and yellow, orange combines the spiritual gold with the temporal red. It symbolizes the balance between spiritual and temporal power, celestial and terrestrial worlds, which means justice in the broad sense of the term or harmony. The saffron garment of Buddhist monks also symbolizes the search for harmony.

The (orange) balance between the (yellow) spiritual and (red) temporal power corresponds to the diagonal separating the upper and the lower world. The balance between both worlds is reinforced by the dragon undulating like a serpent alongside the diagonal. It is simultaneously a creature of both worlds, flying in the sky and hiding in the water, earth and even the underworld. This makes it akin to Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent of the Aztec mythology (see the Mexican flag).

For more details on the meaning of colours, consult the rainbow colours.

The powers of the dragon

In many traditions, legends and tales, dragons are guardians of treasures, hidden in castles, caverns, depths of the sea, earth or wells. Defeating the dragon is a test for the hero who has to conquer the treasure or release the king's daughter. Passing this test transforms the hero into a new creature: he gives up his condition of an ordinary being scattered to all points of the compass in order to be reborn as a fully centred being. He has then become a true individual (from “individuum” meaning indivisible, one). Then, he reintegrates his home where he is living in accordance with himself and the outer world. Then, he discovers the true treasure lying deep inside his being, inner peace and harmony.

In Far Eastern traditions, the treasure usually consists of a pearl. Locked in a shell, it symbolizes the hidden Knowledge, the Knowledge to be discovered, the Knowledge at the source of the world, the creating Word as the “place for possibilities”. As such, the pearl is an image of the Principle, source of manifestation of all beings and things. During its manifestation, the Principle is polarized into upper and lower worlds as both halves of the shell open to release the pearl.

In Asia, shells are fertilized by the thunder Standard of the late Qing Manchu dynasty (1890-1911)generated by the dragon. They develop a pearl symbolizing the Universe, the Cosmos, the World Egg in gestation before its manifestation. The dragon playing with a pearl, as on the opposite picture, depicts the power of manifestation underlined by the red colour of the sphere on a saffron background. A power of manifestation which is even more precisely described by the dragon on the flag of Bhutan.

Dragon on the flag of BhutanThe manifestation process is represented by the four pearls held in the dragon's claws, which form a square associated with the four compass points as well as the construction basis of any building, notably the king's palace. The dragon is grasping the upper pearl with its claws turned upwards as if it had fallen from Heaven; the three other pearls are held with the claws turned downwards as if they had been laid down on Earth. The first pearl symbolizes the laying of the foundation stone, the corner stone; the three other pearls are related to the three other stones, which will delimit with the first the building basis. The last stone, the keystone symbolized by the dragon's head, will crown the end of the construction. It represents the Principle beyond both worlds, which is manifested within the other stones.

As the compass points, all manifested things are opposing each other: upper and lower worlds, light and darkness, white and black or, more generally, yang and yin. That is how the dragon, as the source of thunder, can at the same time spit fire (yang) and release rain (yin).

As a symbol of the Principle and its manifestation through the polarization into yang and yin, the dragon acts as guarantor for the harmony between Unity and its manifested elements. It is the resolution of opposites within the Unity. Therefore, no wonder that Bhutan is really the only country in the world to advocate a sustainable development and to put it into practice. Indeed, sustainable development means nothing but preserving harmony between the different components of development (environmental, social, economic and institutional) throughout generations.


  • Jean-Marie Pelt:
  • “Nouveau tour du monde d'un écologiste”, Fayard Publisher, 2005;
  • Mostly, chapter 16 entitled “Le Bhoutan, petit paradis écologique”.