Tiger Tattoos and their Meanings

Tiger Tattoos: Meaning and Symbolism

A blackwork realism portrait tattoo of a tiger on the bicep
The lord of the jungle

Tigers. Lords of the jungle, these majestic creatures are known as much for their strength and ferociousness as they are for their beauty and grace. Thought to have originated in China and currently the national animal of India, tigers also hold a prominent place in the mythology and folklore of many Asian regions.

A realism portrait tattoo of a tiger walking done on the forearm
Realism portrait tattoo of a tiger on the forearm

Seals depicting tigers have been found in South Asia dating all the way back several thousands of years ago – all the way to the Indus Valley Civilization! Steeped in culture, history, and even art, it is no wonder that tigers are such a popular symbol across all art forms, including as tattoo designs – but what do these stunning animals really symbolize?

Realism blackwork tattoo of a tiger roaring and preparing to attack done on the bicep and shoulder
Hear the beast roar!

In Chinese symbolism, the tiger ‘is an emblem of dignity, ferocity, sternness, courage, and by itself is Yin energy‘, as well as ‘energy, royalty, generosity, and illumination‘. Tigers are also thought of as protectors of the dead, helping them find peace as they pass on.

Tigers are also often seen as a symbol of protection and is linked to the Chinese god of wealth Tsai Shen Yeh. In South Asia, the tiger is linked to Durga, the goddess of war. All these associations link the tiger to power and divinity while also highlighting the ability of humans to harness raw power and the divinity within. Traditional and tribal tattoos from these regions often feature the dragon as an important symbol.

A blackwork tattoo of the Hindu goddess Durga and her tiger mount done by Sunny Bhanushali of Aliens Tattoo
A blackwork tattoo of goddess Durga and her tiger mount by Sunny Bhanushali (Aliens Tattoos)

Chinese mythology also considers the white tiger to be one of the five classical planets, Venus. The tiger is associated with the autumn season, the colour white, the cardinal direction of the west, and the element of metal. The white tiger is said to only appear when a king rules with absolute virtue and there is peace in all the lands.

A realism portrait tattoo of a white tiger done on the bicep
The magical white tiger in a bicep tattoo

Similar beliefs are held in various other parts of East Asian, including in Japan where the tiger is a popular choice for tattoos done in Irezumi, a traditional style of tattooing in Japan.

A tiger tattoo done in the traditional Japanese tattooing style by master tattooist Kintaro Horiyoshi III
A Japanese tiger tattoo on the back by Irezumi master Kintaro Horiyoshi III

In Korea, the tiger is a guardian that drives away evil spirits and brings good luck. It is thought of as a symbol of courage.

The traditional sak yant muay thai tattoos often feature the tiger as a symbol of protection, strength, power, and fearlessness for the muay thai fighters. It is considered unlucky to get these tattoos from anyone other than a Buddhist monk using a bamboo needle and is believed that the wearer will not be blessed with the sacred powers these tattoos are thought to bring. These tattoos are usually done on the back, a placement that symbolizes protection, as in ‘someone is watching your back’, as well as leaving the past in the past.

Sak yant muay thai traditional tattoo of the tiger for protection and strength
Sak yant muay thai back tattoo of the tiger

Tiger eyes are also an extremely popular choice as a tattoo design. The ‘eye of the tiger’ became a popular phrase thanks to Survivor in the 80s, but this phrase actually has a deeper meaning – it represents impending death as the ‘eye of the tiger’ is the last thing a prey will see before its death.

A realism blackwork tattoo of the tiger's eyes done on the bicep
Eye of the Tiger!

But what is interesting is that the phrase doesn’t refer to the tiger’s actual eyes! It refers to the spots on the back of the tiger’s ears which become visible when the tiger pulls its ears backwards right before it ‘goes in for the kill’.

A realism colour tattoo of a tiger ready to attack, baring the 'eyes' behind its ears, done on the bicep
All eyes on me!

For many, tiger tattoos symbolize raw power and strength. For others, the apex predator is seen as representing freedom and independence. Tiger cubs are thought to be a perfect balance of power and innocence.

A minimalism tattoo of a tiger cub sleeping done near the ankle
The tiger sleeps tonight
A minimalism portrait tattoo of a tiger done on the tricep
Personal power is calm and understated, just like in this tricep tiger tattoo!

It makes sense then that tiger tattoos on the chest, biceps, and forearms are so popular! Chest placement for tattoos symbolizes love, since it is close to the heart, and power, since ancient cultures often painted the tales of their valour and victory on their chest. Forearm tattoos denote strength and toughness. Many choose these placements purely for aesthetic appeal as well, but they sure do make tiger tattoos look fierce!

A blackwork realism chest tattoo of the mythological battle between the tiger and the dragon, symbolizing the eternal struggle between yin and yang
Tiger and Dragon, yin and yang – an eternal battle!

In modern spirituality, the tiger is seen as a symbol of willpower, courage, and personal strength,  symbolizing primal instincts, unpredictability, and the ability to trust yourself. On a deeper level, the tiger is seen as a sign of facing yourself, especially the parts of your identity and emotions that you would rather not acknowledge or express.

A minimalism geometric tattoo of a tiger done on the forearm
Minimalistic geometric tiger tattoo on the forearm
A blackwork geometric portrait tattoo of a tiger done on the bicep
Geometric tiger tattoo on the bicep

The stone Tiger’s Eye, which is golden brown and orange with black stripes, is thought to help its wearer overcome their anxiety and fear and find harmony and balance. It encourages you to be calm and clear, unclouded in your judgements and decisions. Tigers teach us to own our inner power and approach life calmly.

A realism tattoo of a white tiger hunting underwater done on the bicep
A white tiger dives in for the kill!
A traditional-style colour tattoo of a tiger roaring done on the thigh
Traditional-style tiger tattoo on the thigh

Ready to own your power? Head on over to jhaiho.com and book your tattoo appointment today!

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