The elephant has had profound meaning across many African and Asiatic cultures. Perhaps the best known association is with Ganesha – or Ganesh – the Hindu God with the body of a human and the head of an elephant.
The elephant has long had an association with many human societies for centuries. In ancient history, elephants were even used during war to strike fear into the hearts of enemies. Perhaps the most famous example of this is the war elephants of Hannibal – the military leader from Carthage. In this sense, the elephant has variously been seen as peaceful, frightful, and utilitarian.
The Profound Impact of the Elephant
People often say that a person has the mind or the memory of an elephant. In this context, the elephant is seen as a wise animal with a long memory and sentience. As such, elephants have been living alongside people for many centuries. Elephants are typically associated with the following qualities and characteristics:
- Strength and courage
- Wisdom and intelligence
- A connection to the divine
- The arts
- Luck and good fortune
For Buddhists, the elephant is also important. The white elephant symbolizes one aspect of Buddha and is strongly associated with the teachings of Buddha, including compassion, love, and peace.
The Wisdom of the Elephant
Wisdom and intelligence are two qualities associated with the elephant. This may be because they are long-lived as animals. We assume that over their long years, they develop unparalleled wisdom.
In the aspect of Ganesha, the elephant is regarded as an immortal divine being. In this sense, Ganesha is also representative of the arts, wisdom, and the pursuit of knowledge.
Even if you don’t have an elephant tattoo in the form of Ganesha, this association with wisdom, memory, the arts, and knowledge makes it an ideal tattoo for those who are involved in these fields.
As an animal that is largely reserved unless provoked, the elephant is an ideal symbol for a person who may be involved in the pursuit of personal knowledge, and even the knowledge of the divine.
The Story of Ganesha
There is little doubt that Ganesha is one of the most popular Hindu deities. Even people who are not Hindu often recognize the colorful and striking elephant headed God. Indeed, as a patron of the arts, Ganesha has a flamboyant and colorful persona, and this is conveyed through paintings and sculptures in India and elsewhere.
One might find images of Ganesha and shrines almost everywhere in India, from the poorest home to the most bejeweled palace. Such is the society-wide impact of this most outlandish God. Ganesha also represents the power to overcome both materials and spiritual obstacles. In this way, Ganesha appeals to a wide range of people.
In Hindu cosmology, Ganesha was asked to translate a sacred book by a sage called Vyasa. Before doing this, Ganesha took time to understand the true meaning of the text. This thoughtful and scholarly approach to life is at the core of what Ganesha represents for people, and also relates to the patronage of the arts on Earth.
Ganesha is also more than this. His considered approach and deep desire to learn and gain knowledge also makes him a conscientious worker. In this way Ganesha appeals to people who work hard for a living, and those who want to overcome obstacles to improve their lives.
The other side to Ganesha is that he has the power to create obstacles too. Though his strength and wisdom allow him to break through many obstacles, Ganesha is wise enough to understand that harmful activities and behaviors also need to be moderated or prevented altogether.
Elephants in the Ancient World
While it is true that Hannibal recognized the power of elephants during war time, the ancient Greeks and Romans also cultivated great respect for these giant animals.
Due to the success of Hannibal, the Romans incorporated elephants into some of their most famous legions. Pliny, the Roman historian, viewed the elephant as a symbol of renewal and sacredness. The Romans were also in awe of elephants because they were long-lived. There is, thus, a tie to immortality and ancestry.
The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, also recognized the power of the elephant within human societies. Elephants gestate their young for two years, and during this time, the male abstains from mating. This was seen by Aristotle as a symbol of thoughtful consideration and chastity.
Should You Get an Elephant Tattoo?
Given the importance of the elephant across many human cultures, it is not surprising that it is also a popular type of tattoo. If you are Hindu, Buddhist, or come from a culture where the elephant or Ganesha is important, the choice is clear. Having an elephant, or Ganesha, tattoo is a great way to pay homage to this most divine of animals, and also symbolize your ties to your family and cultures.
However, the elephant is perhaps so ubiquitous across many human cultures that it may also appeal to those who don’t have cultural ties to Hinduism or Buddhism. Here are some reasons that you might want to have an elephant tattoo:
Strength and Courage
Most people will recognize the power and physical strength of the elephant. The whale might be the largest mammal anywhere on the planet, but the elephant is definitely the largest mammal on the land.
For many people, their strength holds great appeal. Yet, despite their obvious strength and ability to cause fear, they are relatively calm animals. They prefer to live peacefully with humans and would rather give and receive affection.
The strength and wisdom of the elephant has great meaning for many people. It may be a way to symbolize strength and courage in the face of adversity in life. It may also be a symbol of being calm and collected under great pressure or trauma.
Good Luck and Fortune
The elephant is also related strongly to good luck. The elephant is strong and can carry heavy loads. They are able to help people and overcome obstacles. In this way, they are seen as a symbol of good luck in life and the ability to overcome any obstacles.
If you are intending to have an elephant tattoo and like that it’s associated with good luck in life, make sure that you have it tattooed with its trunk up and raised. Much like the old horseshoe, the raised trunk is symbolic of good fortune.
The Importance of Family
Due to the long lives of elephants and their willingness to remain by the side of their mate, they are also strongly associated with family and ancestry. Having a family of elephants, each connected trunk to tail, and including baby elephants too, is a great way to symbolize the importance of family in our lives.
The elephant has held great importance across many African and Asian cultures over many centuries. It has long been associated with strength, family, good luck, and the capacity to overcome obstacles in life. Ganesha is the most famous elephant headed God, but there is no doubt at all that in any guise the elephant is a powerful symbol that appeals to many people.