“I’m gonna become Hokage someday, believe it! And I’m gonna surpass all the Hokages before me!”
The catchphrase of one of the most popular anime characters in history surely would bring a deluge of memories in the minds of Naruto fans. With its fascinating narrative, complex and lovable characters and arguably one-of-the-best soundtracks of all time, the global popularity that the Naruto series has amassed is well-deserved.
One of the key ingredients in creating this vibrant universe of Naruto is the substantial influence of myths, legends and folklore from diverse parts of the world. Kishimoto Masashi, the author of the series, quite successfully adapted legends and myths into the ninja world of Naruto, thereby lending it a unique depth and richness, setting it apart from many other stories. In particular, one can discover multiple connections with Indian mythology, namely from Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Although the story has also been heavily influenced by Japanese and Chinese mythologies, the less-apparent Indian connection is equally undeniable.
Read on to find out how Kishimoto sourced bricks and mortar from India to build the exciting shinobi world:
Let’s start with the foundation of all ninjutsu – chakra (チャクラ chakura) and the chakra system (経絡系 Keirakukei).
Chakra, which is a prerequisite for even the most basic ninjutsu (ninja techniques), is essentially a combination of physical energy and mental energy.
The chakra system then is simply the network of transporting chakra in the body; akin to what the cardiovascular system is to blood.
It can be moulded by forming special signs with the hands, called “seals” (印, In), which enable to properly summon and mould chakra necessary to perform any ninjutsu.
Although the basic seals each correspond to one of twelve animals of the Chinese Zodiac calendar, the concept of these hand formations reportedly springs from mudra (Sanskrit: मुद्रा), which are symbolic hand gestures in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Translating directly to “seals”, mudras are widely deployed in Indian dances, yoga as well as certain martial art forms. In Buddhist ceremonies, a mudra acts as a visual seal to affirm a spiritual utterance, resembling its usage in Naruto as a tool to draw out chakra.
Originally derived from the Sanskrit word चक्र (chakr), the concept of chakra was first mentioned in the Vedas, the ancient sacred Hindu text. Comprising of 7 energy centres in the body, it is believed that these chakras energise the physical body, enhance mental faculties and are the loci of life-energy, which flows along pathways called ‘nadis’. Sounds familiar, right?
Furthermore, the legendary battle between Might Guy and Madara sees the former opening up all the eight chakra gates (八門遁甲の陣 Hachimon Tonkō no Jin). These various chakra gates symbolise different aspects of life both in the ninja world and in ancient meditation practices. And although there are only 7 such gates according to Hinduism, the Tantric and Shakti traditions, just like Narutoverse, identify eight chakra centres.
Do you remember Sasuke’s summon Garuda (ガルダ Garuda) which first appeared during his fight with Shimura Danzou?
The bird-summon is inspired from the divine avian creature of the same name in Hindu, Buddhist and Jain mythology. It serves as a ‘protector’ known for its intelligence, power and martial prowess. With the Brigade of the Guards of the Indian Army using the Garuda as their symbol and the Indian Air Force naming their Special Forces after this bird, this hawk-eagle goes beyond culture and serves as a national symbol as well.
On the same note, Deidara’s C4 attack (C4カルラ, Shi fo karura) also takes inspiration from this legendary creature.
Let’s talk about the Rinnesharingan, the legendary ocular jutsu which seems to be the progenitor of the Sharingan and the Rinnegan.
Powerful enough to cast the Infinite Tsukiyomi upon the entire world, this doujutsu manifests as a third eye on the forehead of the user. This might remind one of the “Eye of Consciousness” in Buddhism, which is associated with spiritual wisdom and enlightenment and depicted by the urna (白毫, Byakugō) mark on Buddha’s forehead.
The Rinnesharingan is also similar to the third eye of Lord Shiva, ‘the Destroyer’ among the Hindu Trinity which is believed to contain energy capable of demolishing the entire universe.
Legend tells that Lord Shiva opened his third eye once to set aflame the God of Lust, who perished because of the devastating flames.
Doesn’t it remind you of Itachi’s Amaterasu doujutsu?
Almost impossible to avoid, the nearly inextinguishable flames of Amaterasu which stay lit for seven days and seven nights can burn any material – even other flames. Although this fire-release technique borrows the name of the ancient Japanese Sun Goddess, similarities with Hindu mythology cannot be crossed out.
Incidentally, Itachi uses the Amaterasu (天照) from his right eye and Tsukiyomi (月読, the first kanji stands for the moon; the word literally means the Moon Reader as) from his left. And it is said that the Sun is the right eye of Lord Shiva while the Moon is his left.
Part.2 is here
Part.3 is here