In the world of Naruto, there are many displays of the concept of love. Lives are sacrificed in the name of love and the hopes that the world will become a better place.
Teams that were formed for a single purpose, such as waging war or completing dangerous missions, become more than just a group of strangers thrown together for a single purpose; they become family, willing to risk life and limb for teammates they hold dear. Though Naruto Uzumaki grows up as an orphan lacking friendships and the love of family, his unwavering optimism and desire to become Hokage draws others to him.
He not only makes friends, but gains a family in them little by little. Naruto first experiences the depth of love in the form of his sensei, Iruka, risking his life and putting all on the line to protect him. This display is a turning point for the young child housing a Tailed Beast.
But there is another young shinobi with the heavy burden of a Tailed Beast whose life mirrors Naruto’s, except for a lack of love: Gaara of the Sand, the eventual fifth Kazekage. Perhaps the most iconic depiction of the concept of love is in the form of Gaara’s forehead tattoo.
Who is Gaara?
Gaara is first introduced as a young shinobi from the Sand Village who arrives in the Leaf Village with his older siblings, Temari and Kankruo, to compete in the Chunin Exams. The three are the children of the Kazekage, the leader of the Sand Village, and rumored to be incredibly strong.
Temari, the oldest, is armed with a giant fan to complement her wind style fighting. Kankuro, the middle child, is a skilled puppet master and carries a menacing puppet on his back wherever he goes. However Gaara, the youngest, stands apart from his siblings in more ways than one. Gaara carries a large gourd on his back, which is eventually revealed to contain sand that he can wield while fighting.
When we first meet Gaara, he is everything Naruto isn’t. Where Naruto is warm and craves the acceptance of others, Gaara is an unfeeling and merciless killer. He is only a child no more than twelve and living with the volatile sand spirit Shukaku, the One-Tail, sealed away inside him since birth.
The One-Tail thrives on driving its human vessels to the point of madness, whispering its murderous intentions in their brains and making them too fearful to even sleep. Gaara is no exception to the One-Tail’s ruthless madness and has given into the darkest. Even his siblings live in fear of Gaara’s power, openly calling their younger brother a monster.
Throughout the course of the Chunin Exams, Gaara is shown maiming and murdering other young ninja in cold blood with his sand, barely lifting a finger to do so. However, it isn’t until the third round of the exams that we see firsthand what Gaara is capable of and how unstable he is.
A matchup between Gaara and the Leaf ninja, Rock Lee, ends with Lee’s body crushed and broken. As Gaara commands his sand to encase Lee, his intent to kill is clear. If not for the interference of Lee’s sensei, Gaara would have murder his already defeated opponent without a second thought.
It isn’t until a final showdown between Gaara and Naruto where both unleash their full power that we see the source of Gaara’s pain through Naruto’s eyes. Gaara had suffered and lived a life of solitude due to choices made before he was even born. The decision to seal the One-Tail inside of Gaara was made by his father with the intent to use his son as a weapon for his village.
As Gaara grew, he did not understand how to control the power inside of him which led to accidents that injured the people surrounding the young child. Instead of protecting his son and teaching him about the enormous power contained within, Gaara’s father viewed his son as an unstable problem that needed to be eliminated, forbidding his other two children from interacting with their brother.
The only person who showed and taught Gaara about love was his uncle. However, his father saw this bond as an opportunity to test Gaara’s control over the One-Tail and plotted an assassination attempt carried out by none other than the only person Gaara ever loved: his uncle.
Why Does Gaara Have a Tattoo?
With his dying breath, Gaara’s uncle was ordered to lie to his nephew and convince him that he was never loved by anyone; not his deceased mother, not his father or siblings, and not even the man he held dearest. Upon thwarting the violent attempt on his life and finding his own uncle behind the assassin’s mask, Gaara’s already fragile psyche shattered.
This break caused the sand to swirl around him and brand his forehead with a red symbol with a single meaning: love.
If no one truly loved him, then Gaara vowed to love himself and only himself to the point of disregarding everyone around him. Gaara was left alone hurt and confused at a tender age, with no one but the mad sand spirit inside, planting deranged notions in his head.
After years of feeling unloved, Naruto was the first person to break through Gaara’s thick layers of hatred and loneliness. Naruto could relate to Gaara, as he too was someone who lived with the burden of carrying a Tailed Beast and the loneliness that came along with it.
Naruto knew darkness just as Gaara, but refused to give into it. The realization that life did not have to be spent in deep darkness locking out those around him was a turning point in Gaara’s life.
After his confrontation with Naruto, Gaara slowly began to open his heart, first to his siblings and later, to his entire village. He had vowed not to let Naruto’s words that touched his heart go to waste and set himself on the path to earning the love and respect of his people.
Three years after Naruto and Gaara’s clash, we return to Sand Village to find that Gaara’s life had changed drastically. No longer the feared and shunned child of the past, Gaara has risen to become the leader of his village–the Kazekage–like his father before him. But instead of following in his father’s footsteps and making the same deadly mistakes, Gaara opened his heart to everyone under his care and vowed to protect them with his life.
His siblings became two of the most precious and important people in his life, and the feeling was mutual. Kankuro, who had once been terrified of Gaara and his power, is shown risking his life to the point of near death after Gaara is kidnapped by the Akatsuki, using his last bit of energy to plead for someone–anyone–to save his little brother.
Temari defies the orders of the village elders and risks treason alongside Kankuro to come to Gaara’s aid. Naruto is ready and willing to give over every last bit of chakra he had inside to restore Gaara’s life.
The boy who was once feared and shunned became the most beloved person in his village. The boy who was once driven mad by his loneliness and hatred found himself surrounded by the love of his family and friends.
What Does Gaara’s Tattoo Mean?
The tattoo on Gaara’s head that meant love had once symbolized his estrangement from everyone around him and care for only himself. After he set himself on a new path, the tattoo came to symbolize the amount of endless selfless love in his heart.