Tibetan people adore odd numbers as lucky ones, in particular, the numbers of “3”, “9” and “13”.
“3”—the odd number with good luck
The Tibetan ethnic group has long paid much attention to the auspicious date for a marriage if the ceremony and subsequent married life are to have a chance of going well.
The dates of making the match with the girl’s family, the bride’s setting out for her new home and the ceremony itself are all decided by Buddhist experts through divination. In addition, these dates are generally related to odd numbers, especially 3 and 9. Six is the only even number not regarded as taboo, as it is a multiple of 3.
In respect of the marriage ceremony, the chosen lucky date is usually the third in the lunar calendar; guests must be toasted with three glasses of wine; and, before drinking, the fourth finger must dip and flip the wine three times toward the upper, middle and lower directions respectively; three sacrificial altars or three wooden barriers must be placed along the route taken by the bride, who must walk round the stove three times and bow three times. The wedding usually lasts for three days, and the number of attendees must also by multiples of the lucky numbers.
When friends meet each other or when receiving guests, they must sing the toasting song—“three glasses of wine”, which states that the first glass of good wine is used to toast Sanbao with a wish for luck and happiness; the second glass is used to toast the parents and wish good luck and happiness for them; the third glass is used to offer the same toast to friends.
In receiving guests, they, too, must be offered three glasses of wine. The guests must take a sip, after which the hosts will fill the glass again. This is repeated, until the third time when the glass is drained. Then, the guests can drink freely.
According to the Bon religion, the universe is divided into three parts—heaven, the earth’s surface and underground. The Buddhist religion has three-generation Buddhas—Jiaye Buddha for the past, Sakyamuni Buddha for the present and Maitreya Buddha for the future; incarnation is divided into three circles—desire circle, material circle and non-material circle; the sun, moon and stars are called “three stars” to signify permanence. All these lend a mysterious religious feature to the number, which cause people to adore it.
The Tibetan ethnic group often connects good things with the number “3”. In the Biography of King Gesar, the well-known epic, it is said that the State of Ling in ancient times had three great Gods, three great Buddhas, three great monasteries, three great tribes, three great saints, three great queens and three great servant-girls, etc. According to the epic, King Gesar is the descendant of the three great emperor families of the State of Ling originating from three great saviors.
As already noted, Tibetans use the number for a great deal of symbolism, such as the three lights of the sun, moon and stars and the three parts of the universe. In religious terms, it also stands for the Buddha of Infinite Light, Mother Buddha and White Tara, who are “the three Buddhas of longevity”…
Only silver bowls or dragon bowls can be used as drinking vessels in Tibet. In addition, ghee must be dipped on three spots in the bowls for good luck.
“9”—Another odd number with good luck
According to the ancient books and records of Bon religion, Sangbo Bointri and Qoigyimo gave birth to nine boys and nine girls, each of whom eventually married to create the 18 couples who comprised the world of the Bon religion, leading to nine becoming a symbol of good luck.
In ancient books and legends of the Bon religion, it is always related to the structure of the heavenly circle of the universe. Heaven is divided into nine layers as well as the earth. Tibetan people will cook nine kinds of cereals on their New Year’s Day under the Tibetan calendar. Tibetan religious books are divided into nine stages. In Tibet, the number always signifies numerousness with the meaning of all. And the number “99” means so many.
People also like to use the number “5”. For example, after attending a wedding feast, everyone must take five drinks, i.e., matchmaking drink, question drink, acknowledgment drink, reception drink and wedding drink; there are at least five guests especially invited to the wedding feast, or nine or 11 guests at most. Even numbers are taboo.
In Tibetan history, thousands of interpretation masters have shown their talents. Among them, nine great interpreters were the most famous, being composed of three old, three middle-aged and three young ones.
During the era of the Tubo king Trisong Detsan, nine Bon religion scholars had to take part in the activities of offering sacrificial animals.
As Tibetan people view odd numbers as lucky ones, herdsmen will choose a date with odd numbers in the first half of every month to assemble, set off on their journeys, and hold all other important events with the hope of safety. When a herdsman toasts his friend, they will take a drink of three glasses at first, and a drink of three glasses for the second and the third times. Drinking nine glasses can represent mutual respect between friends.
During the Tibetan New Year’s festival, monks in every monastery will present gift packages of dried fruit to the Living Buddha and masters of scripture. They can pack one kind, three kinds, five kinds, seven kinds, nine kinds, eleven kinds and thirteen kinds at most, while even numbers are taboo. All these instances show that the principle of adoring odd numbers and regarding even numbers as taboo is always adhered to during any activities in Tibet.
Horse racing and archery have been popular for over a thousand years in Tibetan area. Early in the Tubo era, Songtsan Gambo had a strong team of cavalry and he often held horse races, equestrian activities, polo and archery on horseback. In King Gesar, there are many passages describing horse racing and archery. It is described in the book that, on one occasion, King Gesar went to a great meadow on a brown horse and a herdsman set up “nine sheep, nine goats, nine layers of armor, nine copper pans and nine saddle woods as targets.”
“13”—Yet another odd number with good luck
Since heaven is composed of 13 layers according to legends, and the thirteenth heaven is the Pure Land described by Tsongkapa, founder of Yellow Sect, the number of 13 serves as a very lucky and sacred number.
In the Tubo era, when Tibetans killed domestic animals and sacrificed them to call back the spirit of the dead, according to the disciples of Bon religion, the carcass of an animal could only be divided into twelve parts, becoming 13 with the head. More or less was forbidden.
In olden times, there were 13 10,000-households in the U-Tsang area. In 1268, Kublai Khan, founder emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, assigned the chiefs of these 13 10,000-households.
According to historical records of Tibet, the Tudo Kingdom founder Tsampo Songtsan Gambo ascended the throne at the age of 13, as did his son Gungri Guntsang and his grandson Mangsom Mangtsan. Ruisom Detsan and Beketsan were Tsangpo Langdama’s grandsons and the last generation of Tsampo of the Tubo Court as well. They also ascended the throne at the age of 13.
There are some folk stories about the number of “13” in Tibet. In 641, when Songtsan Gambo sent a party to escort Tang Dynasty Princess Wencheng to Lhasa, he held grand celebration including horse racing, and attended it in person. But he only won the thirteenth prize. So the number of “13” became a lucky number in Tibet and, in Tibetan horse racing, only thirteen runners in the front can get a prize.