Jujutsu Kaisen just referenced an Indian monastery in Uttar Pradesh that still influences Japan

Ayaan Paul
Ayaan PaulDec 12, 2023 | 13:42

Jujutsu Kaisen just referenced an Indian monastery in Uttar Pradesh that still influences Japan

Jujutsu Kaisen's reference to the Gion monastery and the Jetavana Vihara in Shravasti, Uttar Pradesh, is yet another nod to Indo-Buddhist history and the syncretic blending of religious beliefs. 

In the anime's ongoing Shibuya Incident arc, Aoi Todo delivers a powerful speech that draws inspiration from the teachings associated with the Gion monastery, creating a moment of profound impact on the protagonist, Yuji Itadori.

"The bells of the Gion monastery in India echo with the warning that all things are impermanent. The blossoms of the sala trees teach us through their hues that what flourishes must fade. However! We are the exception!"

The Jetavana vihara

The aformentioned Gion monastery in Todo’s dramatic speech finds its real-world counterpart in the Jetavana Vihara, situated in present-day Shravasti in UP.

This ancient Buddhist monastery holds historical significance as the second vihara donated to Gautama Buddha by his chief male patron, Anathapindika. Jetavana, located just outside the old city of Savatthi (modern-day Sravasti), stands as a symbol of Buddhist teachings and impermanence.

Buddhist school of thought

In the context of Jujutsu Kaisen, Todo's words draw upon the Buddhist concept of impermanence, emphasising the transience of all things. However, instead of succumbing to nihilism,Todo assures us that they are the exception to the rule, embodying an optimistic defiance against Mahito's selfish evil. His words aim to shake Yuji out of despair, conveying a message of resilience and the exceptionality of their existence.


Gion faith in Japan

The connection between the Gion faith in Japan and the Jetavana vihara is fascinating. 

The deity Gozu Tenno, a central figure in the Gion faith, is considered to have originated as a guardian of Jetavana. In Japan, Gozu Tenno is identified with Susanoo-no-Mikoto, reflecting the syncretic nature of religious beliefs in the region.

An interpretation of the Gozu Tenno deity. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto provides an example of this syncretism, serving as a miyadera (shrine run by a temple) before its conversion to a purely Shinto shrine during the Meiji era. The principal deity worshipped at Yasaka Shrine was Gozu Tenno - an ox-headed deity associated with Jetavana. The Japanese district of Gion, where the faith is centred, derives its name from the Buddhist term Jetavana.

An interpretation of the Gozu Tenno deity. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Religious syncretism

The fusion of Buddhist and Shinto influences in Yasaka Shrine underscores the historical interplay between these two religious traditions. Gozu Tenno's identification with Susanoo-no-Mikoto reflects the evolution of beliefs over time, incorporating elements from both Hindu and Japanese mythologies.

The Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto, Japan. Photo: Discover Japan

The Meiji nationalists' insistence on a clean separation of Shinto and Buddhism marked a significant shift in religious practices, citing Gozu Tenno as an example of the perceived distortion of Shinto. Despite these efforts, the old Buddhist-Shinto fusion continues to resonate in festivals and cultural practices, highlighting the enduring impact of syncretic beliefs in Japanese society to this day.

The entrance to the Gion monastery in Kyoto, Japan. Photo: Japan Guide

Jujutsu Kaisen's almost throwaway incorporation of these historical and religious references, weave together elements of Buddhism, Shintoism, and mythology to enhance the thematic richness of the anime in very subtle ways.

Last updated: December 12, 2023 | 13:42
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