Elephant Symbolism

Symbolism of Elephant in Literature

Elephant as symbolism is widely used in Eastern and African cultures, especially Hinduism in India. Elephants are native to Asian and African continents. Later, elephants began to be symbolic due to pop culture and films like Aladin and Dumbo, which signified loyalty and love. Elephants are mentioned in ancient literature of Buddhism and Hinduism to represent strength and wisdom. The word elephant is likely derived from the Old French word ‘olifant’, including the Latin term ‘elephantus’ with roots from the Greek word ‘elephas’ and a non-Indo-European language like Sanskrit, ‘ibhah’ means elephant as well as a soldier riding an elephant in the war.


The elephant is a symbol of wisdom and intelligence. The elephant is the king of the animals based on wisdom. The elephant has more inner strength and wisdom So, Elephant is a symbol of wisdom in Eastern and western Cultures. In ancient China, India, and Cambodia, elephants were used in warfare to win battles as far back as the 6th century. Chinese and Indians still believe that elephants represent wisdom and intelligence as they are known to have an excellent memory. Thus making them symbols of wisdom even in the modern era. In Africa, the elephant is a symbol of gaining wisdom and reincarnation.


Elephants are symbols of loyalty and devotion. Elephants are protective of their family and live in a herd. Elephants have been with loyalty known to spend time with their family members, and their ancestors of family members have died. Elephants are very dedicated animals, and they would do everything for their families. They are social animals, and relationships are very important to them. Thus, they unite as one for their family and herd to survive. Additionally, female elephants bond with their mother and grandmother throughout their life to show respect and loyalty. In African culture, elephants are symbols of loyalty and devotion. They were honored as previous heads of the tribe. So that the tribal members remain obedient to their chief. Elephant tattoo also represents loyalty to their family along with strength. The African tribal god Nzame chose the elephant as the chief of animals because of its loyalty and wisdom.


In Africa, people admire and respect elephants as they consider them reincarnated leaders. In western Africa, people relate elephants with Guezo and Glele, symbolizing leadership. These two were rulers in the 19th century. In Hinduism, the White elephant represents the leadership and King of auspicious animals. In Thailand, white elephants symbol of leadership and their national animal.

Family & love

An Elephant tattoo, depending on the cultural background, such as in India and  Thailand, can be chosen as a symbol of love for family or love for God. Indian god, Ganesha, with an elephant head, is usually attributed to familial love along with the god of wisdom. In Hinduism, elephants are also associated with the goddess Lakshmi, the divine feminine who protects the family. Dreaming of an elephant represents an important or new role in his or her family. As elephants are symbolic of family and love, all Eastern cultures believe elephants as the symbolism of spiritual teachers. Also, Native American represents the elephant as a spirit animal and a symbol of family and love.

Good Luck

In Asian cultures, such as Indian, Chinese, and Cambodian, elephants represent good luck and are often raised in temples. Indian god of war and rain, Indra, is known to ride, Airavata, a white elephant which is also a symbol of good luck in battles. In Kerala, a state in India, elephants are decorated, and visitors are allowed to touch them for good luck. In Thailand, Burma, and Laos, the white elephant is sacred and is associated with good luck and royalty. Buddist also considers elephants as good luck.


Elephants are intelligent animals and are symbols of their strength and inspiration in pop culture, art, and literature, especially in Asian cultures. In Christianity, elephants are mentioned in the bible as symbols of the strength of prayer, including Mercy and help. Elephants are considered the king of animals in Africa and represent strength due to their long life span.  In Chinese culture, elephant statues were placed in front of the palaces to display the symbol of strength and protection. In Asia, elephants symbolize strength and independence. In the Vietnam war, the army used elephants to display their power and as a symbol of strength. In Indian traditional worship, the elephant-headed god, Ganesh, represents strength, and elephants were also used in wars, as mentioned in Ramayana and Kurukshetra in Mahabharata until the Moghul Empire ruled India. Similarly, Indians place elephant statues in front of temples as a symbol of strength and guidance for protection to travelers.

Happiness & Peace

An elephant represents positivity and happiness in life. Scientifically watching elephants brings peace and happiness. In major Asian cultures such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Thai, and Burmese, elephants are symbols of peace and happiness. dreaming of baby elephants symbolizes happiness. Elephants are associated with emerald stones. Hence, in Hinduism, elephants also symbolize peace, and a person chooses to wear them as jewelry to avoid negativity. Native Americans were gifted elephant bones and tusks as symbols of peace.


In Christianity, elephants also symbolize patience and are depicted in medieval artworks. In Chinese culture body of the elephant is composed of four pillars strength, power, patience, and wisdom. In yoga, according to Hinduism, elephants also symbolize patience as he or she practices mindfulness to improve their quality of life.

Examples of Elephants as Symbolism in Literature

Example #1

Elephant Tusks BY Peter Meinke

The visible world is full of elephant tusks
the music of a silent god
the upward thrust & curve of
natural power, which we grind down
into dice and key, earring and toothpick
to capture the spirit of elephant.
So the spirit of captive elephant
surround us; immense shadows
looming from domino and bishop
lean like building against out shoulders
until we stagger unaware below this weight

In this example, the poet is explaining how elephant tusks are used while also confirming that these tusks, like elephants, are symbols of power, strength, and wisdom, which also the spirit of these majestic animals.

Example #2

Hollow Boom Soft Chime: The Thai Elephant Orchestra  By Sarah Lindsay

A sound of far-off thunder from instruments
ten feet away: drums, a log,
a gong of salvage metal. Chimes
of little Issan bells, pipes in a row, sometimes
a querulous harmonica.
Inside the elephant orchestra’s audience,
bubbles form, of shame and joy, and burst.
Did elephants look so sad and wise,
a tourist thinks, her camera cold in her pocket,
before we came to say they look sad and wise?
Did mastodons have merry, unwrinkled faces?
Hollow boom soft chime, stamp of a padded foot,
tingle of renaat, rattle of angklung.
This music pauses sometimes, but does not end.

In this poem, the poet describes the elephant in a happy event such as circus, yet it is sad because of its bondage. Here the elephant also symbolizes wisdom and grace.

Example #3

As If By J. Allyn Rosser

How do you explain why elephants
appear to move their unwieldy hulks
with greater dignity than most humans do
in their finest moments,
as if they had evolved beyond wanting
anything but what they have?
Why does the field begin to ripple
before the wind arrives in whispers,
as if there were a communication,
as if the landscape were poorly dubbed,
and we weren’t expected to notice?

In the above example, the elephants represent strength and loyalty as well as dignity, as the poet is describing their movement in a group and their connection to each other.

Example #4

The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami

The moment I see her, there’s a rumbling in my chest, and my mouth is as dry as a desert.

Here the author is describing his awe while seeing an elephant. Hence in this example, the elephant symbolizes strength, power, and divinity.

Example #5

The Mourning Parade by Dawn Reno Langley

All around the edges of the platform where she sat, elephants stood patiently waiting for their breakfast. Occasionally, one would grunt or snort or flap its ears, but otherwise, they were as quiet as apparitions.

In this example, the elephant is a symbol of patience, mystery, and wisdom.

Example #6

Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by Thomas French

Elephants, it turns out, are surprisingly stealthy. As the sunlight fades, other species declare their presence. Throngs of zebras and wildebeests thunder by in the distance, trailing dust clouds. Cape buffalo snort and raise their horns and position themselves in front of their young. Giraffes stare over treetops, their huge brown eyes blinking, then lope away in seeming slow motion. But no elephants.”

The author is describing the Savannah woodlands in Africa and the stealth nature of elephants while comparing other animals. Here the elephants are symbols of wisdom, patience, and strength.

Example #7

The Tree Where Man Was Born by Peter Matthiessen

Of all African animals, the elephant is the most difficult for man to live with, yet its passing – if this must come – seems the most tragic of all. I can watch elephants (and elephants alone) for hours at a time, for sooner or later the elephant will do something very strange such as mow grass with its toenails or draw the tusks from the rotted carcass of another elephant and carry them off into the bush. There is mystery behind that masked gray visage, and ancient life force, delicate and mighty, awesome and enchanted, commanding the silence ordinarily reserved for mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea.

In this description, the author uses elephants as symbols of strength as well as peace as he expresses a desire to keep watching them.