One of the most common expressions in the Hare Krishna movement is “Haribol!” It means “Chant [the name] Hari!” and devotees use it especially when greeting one another. It’s also a general-purpose expression sprinkled liberally into all kinds of exchanges—usually in ways that have nothing to do with its literal meaning. Newcomers pick it up quickly, often unaware of what it means.

The name Hari is also used in another favorite ISKCON term: harinama. Literally “the name Hari,” it’s the word we use for public chanting: “We’ll all meet downtown today for harinama.

Since we’re devotees of Krishna, one might wonder why we use the name Hari so much in everyday exchanges. We could be saying, “Krishnabol, Prabhus, let’s go out on Krishnanama!”

The reason is that Hari is one of Krishna’s innumerable names, even though it is often used, like the name Bhagavan, as a generic word for God. Hari even appears in the maha-mantra-in its vocative grammatical form: hare. Some Vaishnava commentators, including Bhaktivinoda Thakura, translate the word Hare in the maha-mantra to mean Krishna, rather than Radha, because Hare can be taken as the vocative form of either Hara (Radha) or Hari.

The word hari literally means “one who takes away.” Krishna is Hari because as time or death He takes away everything. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says, “Time I am, the great destroyer of the worlds.” Srila Prabhupada would point to this feature of Krishna’s when arguing against the idea that we’re all God. If we’re God, why can’t we hold on to anything? Someone more powerful than us is reclaiming everything. He gives and He takes away, and we’re powerless to do anything about it.

Well, not completely powerless. If we align ourselves with Krishna’s purpose, we can use His power for our ultimate benefit. In fact, our benefit is the purpose behind Krishna’s use of power. It’s why He gives and takes away. It’s part of His plan to persuade us to return to Him. He creates the material world as a place of impermanence, inspiring the thoughtful to seek the permanence of the spiritual world.

Hari also refers to Krishna as the one who takes away our misery. The scriptures abound with narrations of Krishna’s delivering His devotees from suffering and danger. In one famous episode, one of Krishna’s avatars rescues the elephant (and devotee) Gajendra from the jaws of a crocodile. Appropriately, that incarnation’s name is Hari. (A manvantara-avatara, He appeared during the reign of Tamasa Manu as the son of Harimedha and Harini.)

But Krishna is not satisfied with just delivering us from material suffering. He wants to steal our hearts too. Krishna is often called Hari in the context of His pastimes with His devotees in Goloka Vrindavana, His home in the spiritual world. The residents of Goloka are the most fortunate of all souls because Krishna has so thoroughly stolen their minds and hearts that they can think of nothing but Him.

In the song beginning with the words hari hari vifale, the Gaudiya Vaishnava poet Narottama Dasa Thakura calls out to the Lord, “O Lord Hari, I have spent my life uselessly. Having obtained a human birth and having not worshiped Radha and Krishna, I have knowingly drunk poison.” We can worship Radha-Krishna and avoid the poison of material life by hearing about, speaking about, and remembering Lord Hari.

—Nagaraja Dasa