The Symbolism Behind Elephant Tattoos

Elephant tattoos most often symbolize strength, luck, wisdom, peace, or memory. Many of theses qualities are derived from the role the elephant plays in different world religions. Historically, elephants have been revered, respected, and honored in many cultures around the world, and from this rich history of cultural reverence arise many beautiful stories and myths explaining the grace and importance of the elephant.

White elephants, for example, are incredibly sacred in Buddhism. Buddhist’s believe that before Mahaprajapati Gautami was incarnated as Buddha, he was conceived as an elephant. Within Buddhism white elephants are symbols of compassion, truth, kindness, peace, and love, all qualities the Buddha was known for.

Elephant Tattoos ImageSimilarly, in the Hindu pantheon the deity Ganesha is believed to have the head of an elephant. Ganesha is widely known as the remover of obstacles for the pure of heart, a patron deity of the arts and sciences, and the deva of wisdom and intellect. People who get a Ganesha tattoo may be commemorating the god himself, or simply using his form as a reminder that all obstacles can be overcome with faith and purity of intent.

Elephants can also be seen in ancient architecture in Tibet. Ancient texts from this region suggest that people believed the elephant was responsible for holding up the entire universe, and thus his presence in pillars and foundational stonework symbolizes the elephant’s stability and ability to bear the weight of the world. People searching for a symbol of stability, or who feel that they bear the weight of the world on their shoulders, may gravitate to elephant tattoos. In this case the elephant may also be incorporated into a design with additional architectural elements.

More contemporary symbolism arises from the unique social order of elephants. Adult elephants form a matriarchal society in which the female elephants band together in large groups to protect and rear their calves. Male elephants are typically solitary in nature, but will associate with multiple matriarchal groups throughout any given year. Elephants also appear to care deeply about one another, and have intricate death rituals for members of their social structure. They often bury their dead with branches and dirt, and if they come across the remains of other deceased elephants they will take a silent pause as members of the group touch the remains gently with their trunks. For these reasons, a person may choose to get a tattoo of an elephant in honor of their family or community.

Oftentimes, a tattoo artist will depict an elephant in naturalistic shades of grey, but there are also brightly colored elephant tattoos which typically draw stylistically from Indian traditions. Additionally, some artists may work with their clients to create designs that combine aspects of naturalism and the fantastic, such as by rendering a photo-realistic elephant surrounded by symbols of Buddhist or Tibetan culture.

The rich history surrounding elephants makes them an excellent choice for a tattoo with great symbolic meaning, as well as a choice that will deliver a beautiful visual impact.

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