Olug Darhan Nangso (1300 – unknown)

Olug Darhan Nangso was a Gelug missionary in Mongolia during the nascent days of the Qing Empire. He converted the Manchu leader Nurhanci, making him possibly the first Tibetan cleric to make contact with the Manchu state. In return for an empowerment, Nurhanci appointed Olug state preceptor, signaling that the Manchu would engage Tibetans in position of influence in the model of the Yuan.

Olug Darhan Nangso was the title given to a Tibetan missionary monk whose name remains unknown. Although existing sources omit information regarding his religious affiliation, he is thought to be of the Gelug tradition, sent to Mongolia as part of the Gelug missionary activity there. 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 Gelug eastward drive in search of a new powerful patron to offset the Kagyu tradition’s dominance in Tibet, chiefly the 3rd Dalai Lama’s conversion of Altan Khan, the ruler of the Tumed Mongols in 1578, and his later conversion of the leader of the Khorchin Mongol in 1588.

Olug Darhan Nangso was sent to this region in the early 17th century, where the Gelug 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, although it was delayed due to warfare. Finally in 1630, at the insistence of the Olug’s junior, Baga Ba Lama, Nurhaci’s son and successor, Hong Taiji, 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 “wusizang” (U-Tsang; dbus gtsang) as a missionary, converted and initiated emperor Nurhaci, and was endowed with the Lama Yuan by Nurhaci.

Despite how little remains known about Olug Darhan Nangso, his significance lies in his role in establishing the relationship between the Gelug and the Manchus at a time when the Gelug hierarchs 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 of the Tangut and Yuan states 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.


Rawski, Evelyn S. 1998. The Last Emperors: A Social History of Qing Imperial Institutions. Berkeley: University of California Press, pp 244-262.

Grupper, Samuel M. 1984. “Manchu Patronage and Tibetan Buddhism During the First Half of the Ch’ing Dynasty.” The Journal of the Tibet Society, vol. 4, pp. 47-74.

Kam, Tak-sing. 2000 “The dGe-lugs-pa Breakthrough: The Uluk Darxan Nangsu Lama’s Mission to the Manchus.” Central Asiatic Journal, vol. 44, no. 2, p. 161-176.

Elverskog, Johan. 2006. Our Great Qing: The Mongols, Buddhists and the State in Late Imperial China. pp. 14-16, 63-126.

Eveline S. Yang
February 2010

Source: http://www.tibetanlineages.org/biographies/view/200/13075



One Response to “Olug Darhan Nangso (1300 – unknown)”
  1. Sarah says:

    Olug Darhan Nangso’s role is significant because by converting the Manchu ruler Nurhanci, he paved the way for Tibetan Buddhism to be practiced in China. The Manchu rulers were Buddhists and brought Tibetan Buddhism to China.

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