Hari is one of the most famous names of Lord Krishna used interchangeably with Vishnu and Narayana. The most common meaning attributed to the word Hari is the forgiver of all sins. Other than that, there are also several interesting shades of meanings to this word.
In Sanskrit, the word Hari means either green or yellow color. For instance, the term ‘Haridra’ meaning turmeric ensues from the yellow color of turmeric.
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Harivamsa or the lineage of Hari is a text that is popular in the Puranic as well as the Itihasa traditions. A vague reference applies the term Hari to lion and the Leo zodiac sign. We may therefore assume that the name Hari became highly popular after the Narasimha (Man-Lion) incarnation of Vishnu.
Adi Shankara’s View
Commenting on the Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram, Adi Shankara says the term Hari is derived from the verbal root ‘Hr’ which means to grab, steal or seize. Therefore, Vaishnavism attributes this name to Lord Vishnu since he is seen as the one who removes the sins of his devotees.
The Guadiya Tradition
The Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition uses the name Hari to address both Krishna and Vishnu. The vocative form of the term Hari namely Hare is used in the Hare Krishna Mahamantra, “Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare; Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare”.
Several Hindu names are also derived from the term Hari including Bhartrhari, Hariprasad, Hari Shankar, Harendra (hari-Indra), Harish (hari-Isha), Harikesh (Hari – kasha meaning golden haired one).
Interestingly, the term ‘Hari’ rhymes with the word ‘Hara’ which is one of the names of Lord Shiva. Therefore the expression Hari Hara indicates the union of Vishnu and Shiva. Ayyappa, the god born out of the union of Mohin incarnation of Vishnu and Shiva is known as ‘Hari Hara Putra’. Therefore, we see the term Hari very popularly used to address Lord Vishnu in several ways.