Olug Darhan Nangso (Uluk Darhan Nangsu)

Olug Darhan Nangso was the title given to a Tibetan missionary monk whose name remains unknown. Although existing sources omit information regarding his religious sect, he is thought to be of the dGe lugs pa school and sent from Tibet to missionize in Mongolia. The title of “Olug,” which means “great” is derived from Turko-Mongolian cognates and was likely due to his proselytizing efforts in Mongolia. “Darhan” is a Mongolian title meaning “One who does not pay taxes”—a status granted to some lamas and princes. “Nangso” is also a Yuan-period title that had devolved into a position of local authority. His missionary efforts took place within the context of a larger dGe lugs pa eastward drive in search of a new powerful patron to offset the bKa’ rgyud in Tibet.

The head of the dGe lugs pas, bSod nams rgya mtsho (aka the 3rd Dalai Lama) met and converted Altan Khan, ruler of the Tumed Mongols, in 1578. Altan Khan’s conversion to the dGe lugs pa sect can be seen as part of a broader attempt to subvert his nominal superiors, the Chakhar Mongols, who had cultivated relationships with the Sa skya pas, and who were allied with the declining Ming against the new Manchu state. Altan Khan bestowed the title of “Dalai Lama” on bSod nams rgya mtsho while the Dalai Lama recognized the khan as “Protector of the Faith.” The 3rd Dalai Lama later established relationships with the Khorchin Mongol leader in 1588 where he gave the Khorchin leader a Hevajra empowerment and consecrated the establishment of a monastic community. After bSod nams rgya mtsho’s death in 1588, the fourth Dalai Lama was recognized as a descendent of Altan Khan and several other Mongol infants were recognized as reincarnations of Tibetan Buddhist lamas.

Olug Darhan Nangso was sent to this region in the early 17th century, where dGe lugs pas had gained a foothold, and proselytized under the patronage of the Khorchin Mongols. It remains unclear how he established contact with the founder of the new Manchu state, Nurhaci (r. 1616–26), in Mukden. According to some accounts, Nurhaci extended an invitation upon hearing about the Olug’s fame. Other sources record that it was the Olug who came to Nurhaci on his own accord after hearing about Nurhaci’s generosity and fame. The first recorded visit took place in 1621, which is perhaps the first direct contact between the Manchus and the Tibetans. During this visit, the Olug successfully converted Nurhaci and gave him an empowerment. In return, Nurhaci appointed him as the dynastic preceptor of the Manchu state and granted him jurisdiction over Lianhua si, a reconsecrated temple from Tang times located outside the capital at Liaoyang. In addition, Nurhaci endowed Lianhua si with property and workers, which was called Lama Yuan.

The Olug died in 1622, just three months after his arrival in Mukden. Nurhaci ordered the construction of a reliquary stupa, however this was delayed due to warfare. Finally in 1630, at the insistence of the Olug’s junior, Baga Ba Lama, Hong Taiji, Nurhaci’s son and successor, began the construction of the stupa. Additionally, two stelae were erected at this site in 1630 and 1658. The stelae were bilingually inscribed in Chinese and Manchu. The 1630 stele records that the Olug came from Wu ssu tsang (dBus gTsang) as a missionary, converted and initiated emperor Nurhaci, and was endowed with the Lama Yuan by Nurhaci. The 1658 stele recounts that Nurhaci had invited the Olug and additionally documents the transfer of the Mahakala statue to Mukden in 1638. This important Mahakala statue was originally offered at Wutai Shan and placed in Xixia lands by Phags pa, and later brought to the ruler of the Chakhars, Ligdan, by Shar pa Qutugtu. After the defeat of the Chakhars by Hong Taiji, Mergen Lama brought the image to Mukden where it was enshrined in the Shishengsi, which was completed in 1638 at the order of Hongtaiji, just west of the city. Such an act physically appropriated a relic of Khubilai Khan, who later Qing emperors claimed descent from.

Despite what little remains known about Olug Darhan Nangso, his significance lies in his role in establishing the relationship between the dGe lugs pa and the Manchus at a time when the dGe lugs pas were seeking a powerful patron in their sectarian struggles in Tibet, and the Manchus were seeking allies in their struggles against other Mongol tribes, particularly the Chakhars, as well as against the Chinese Ming. The Mongols had revived the lama-patron relationship in the late 16th century as a means to expand their political authority. In the Manchus’ quest for consolidating power over Mongol and other groups, Tibetan Buddhism may have been one of various means of winning the allegiance of these groups, although the significance of its role within this project remains disputed.

  • Evelyn S. Rawski. 1998. The last emperors: a social history of Qing imperial institutions. Berkeley: University of California Press. 244-262.
  • Samuel M. Grupper. 1984. Manchu Patronage and Tibetan Buddhism during the First Half of the Ch'ing Dynasty: a review article. The Journal of the Tibet Society 4:47-74.
  • Kam, Tak-sing. The dGe-lugs-pa Breakthrough: The Uluk Darxan Nangsu Lama's Mission to the Manchus. Central Asiatic Journal. 44:2 (2000) p. 161-176.
  • Johan Elverskog. 2006. Our Great Qing: The Mongols, Buddhists and the State in Late Imperial China. pp. 14-16, 63-126.

Entry by Eveline S. Yang 3/5/2007