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Sanskrit Hari (Devanagari: हरि) is in origin a colour term for yellowish hues, including yellow, golden, yellowish-brown or reddish brown, fallow or khaki, pale yellow, greenish or green-yellow It has important symbolism in the Rigveda and hence in Hinduism; in Rigvedic symbolism, it unites the colours of Soma, the Sun, and bay horses under a single term.
The word Hari is widely used in later Sanskrit and Prakrit literature, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain and Sikh religions. It appears as 650th name of Vishnu in the Vishnu sahasranama of the Mahabharata and hence rose to special importance in Hindu Vaishnavism.
The Sanskrit word is cognate with Avestan zari, with the same meaning (zari has (dubiously) been identified as the first part of the name of Zarathustra). The English words gold and yellow (from Germanic gulþan, gelwaz) as well as Latin helvus "light-yellow" are from the same Indo-European root, reconstructed as *ǵʰelH-. Some words in non-Indo-European languages which fell under Hindu dominance during the medieval period also have loanwords derived from the Sanskrit term, including the word for "day" in Malay and Indonesian, and the word for "king" in Tagalog.
Usage in Indian religion and mythology
- The Harivamsha ("lineage of Hari") is a text in both the Puranic and Itihasa traditions.
- As the name of tawny-colored animals, hari may refer to lions (also a name of the zodiacal sign Leo), bay horses, or monkeys. The feminine Harī is the name of the mythological "mother of monkeys" in the Sanskrit epics.
- Hari is the name of a class of gods under the fourth Manu (manu tāmasa, "Dark Manu") in the Puranas.
- In Hinduism, beginning with Adi Sankara's commentary on the Vishnu sahasranama, hari became etymologized as derived from the verbal root hṛ "to grab, seize, steal", in the context of Vaishnavism interpreted as "to take away or remove evil or sin", and the name of Vishnu rendered as "he who destroys samsara", which is the entanglement in the cycle of birth and death, along with ignorance, its cause; compare hara as a name of Shiva, translated as "seizer" or "destroyer".
- In the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, Hari is a name of both Krishna or Vishnu, invoked in the Hare Krishna mantra.
- The element hari is found in a number of Hindu given names, e.g. Bhartrhari, Harendra (i.e. hari-Indra), Harisha (i.e. hari-Isha), Hariprasad, Harikesh (Harikesha, "golden-haired", also a name of Shiva and of Savitar), etc.
- In Sikhism, it is the holy symbol consisting of the three Gurmukhi letters and is used as "हरि" "ਹਰਿ". The Guru Granth Sahib which Sikhs revere as their 11th guru contains this word more than 8500 times.
- Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit Dictionary (1899): "fawn-coloured, reddish brown, brown, tawny, pale yellow, yellow, fallow, bay (esp. applied to horses), green, greenish"
- Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit Dictionary (1899):
- Sri Vishnu Sahasranama, commentary by Sri Sankaracharya, translated by Swami Tapasyananda (Ramakrishna Math Publications, Chennai)