Mahakala complex in Mukden (nowadays, Shenyang, Chin.: 沈阳)

The Mahakala complex is located in Mukden, nowadays Shenyang in northeast China. The Mahakala complex consists of one major temple and four branch temples and adjunct stupas. The Mahakala temple (Shisheng si 实胜寺) was completed in 1638, while the four branch temples and adjunct stupas, set at the compass points, were built from 1643-45 to house four other deities. The stupas are the Rnam par snang ba’i lha khang, the Thugs rje chen po’i lha khang, the Tshe dpag med mgon gyi lha khang, and the Dus kyi ‘kho lo’i lha khang. The construction of the Mahakala complex represents the Buddhist cosmological order celebrated at Abahai’s succession as cakravartin, legitimized the Manchu’s dynasty, which put Mukden, the then capital of Manchu’s state, under the protection of Mahakala.

Mahakala is a seven-armed warlike deity known as a Protector of the Law (in Buddhist sense). Mahakala was particularly important for Mongols at that time and signified the sovereignty. That Hungtaiji embraced the Mahakala cult was crucial in terms of incorporating Mongols into the realm of Manchu state. It is worth noting that by adopting the notion of sovereignty, which was originally created by Mongols, Hungtaiji successfully legitimated the Manchu state.

The Yuan image of Mahakala housed at the complex was later transported from Mukden to Peking by Emperor Kangxi in 1694, where it became part of a new temple complex in the southeast corner of the Imperial City (south of the present-day Donghuamen).

However, what is intriguing about the patronage granted by the rulers of Manchu to Tibetan Buddhism is that, prior to the Qianlong reign, the rulers of Manchu dynasty did not only maintain relations with the Sa skya pa cult, but also kept relations with other cults as well. What should be kept in mind is that a number of Manchu rulers patronized other cults of Tibetan Buddhism while this magnificent temple complex was constructed. The Mahakala cult was closely related to the Sa skya pa cult exclusively.


  • Crossley, Pamela Kyle, A Translucent Mirror: History and Identity in Qing Imperial Ideology, U.C.P., 1999
  • Crupper, Samuel M, Manchu Patronage and Tibetan Buddhism during the First Half of the Ch’ing Dynasty, The Journal of the Tibet Society, Vol.4, 1984
  • Rawski, Evelyn S, The Last Emperors: A social history of Qing imperial institutions UC.P., 1998

Entry by Lan Wu 03/13/07