Harihara (Sanskrit: हरिहर) is the fused representation of Vishnu (Hari) and Shiva (Hara) from the Hindu tradition. Also known as Shankaranarayana ("Shankara" is Shiva, and "Narayana" is Vishnu) like Brahmanarayana (Half represents Brahma and half represents Vishnu), Harihara is thus revered by both Vaishnavites and Shaivites as a form of the Supreme God.

Left: Vishnu (left half—blue) and Shiva (right half—white). Right: A 6th-century Harihara murti in Badami cave temples of Karnataka.

Harihara is also sometimes used as a philosophical term to denote the unity of Vishnu and Shiva as different aspects of the same Ultimate Reality called Brahman. This concept of equivalence of various gods as one principle and "oneness of all existence" is discussed as Harihara in the texts of Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu philosophy.[1]

Some of the earliest sculptures of Harihara, with one half of the image as Shiva and other half as Vishnu, are found in the surviving cave temples of India, such as in the cave 1 and cave 3 of the 6th-century Badami cave temples.[2][3]


The diversity within Hinduism encourages a wide variety of beliefs and traditions, of which two important and large traditions are associated with Vishnu and Shiva. Some schools focus on Vishnu (including his associated avatars such as Rama and Krishna) as the Supreme God, and others on Shiva (including his different avatars such as Mahadeva and Pashupata). The Puranas and various Hindu traditions treat both Shiva and Vishnu as being different aspects of the one Brahman. Harihara is a symbolic representation of this idea. A similar idea, called Ardhanarishvara or Naranari, fuses masculine and feminine deities as one and equivalent representation in Hinduism.[4]

Depending on which scriptures (and translations) are quoted, evidence is available to support each of the different arguments. In most cases, even if one personality is taken as being superior over the other, much respect is still offered to both Vishnu and Shiva by the other's worshippers (i.e. Shiva is still regarded as being above the level of an ordinary jiva and 'the greatest of the Vaishnavas' by Vaishnavas who worship only Vishnu).[5]

One and the same

Swami Sivananda maharaj states: "Shiva and Vishnu are one and the same entity. They are essentially one and the same. They are the names given to the different aspects of the all-pervading Supreme Parabrahman the Supreme Being or the Absolute. ‘Sivasya hridayam vishnur-vishnoscha hridayam sivah—Vishnu is the heart of Shiva and likewise Shiva is the heart of Vishnu’."

Swaminarayan holds that Vishnu and Shiva are different aspects of the same God.[6][7][8] Notably, the Swaminarayan view is a minority view among Vaishnavites, but the dominant view in contemporary Hinduism which follows the Smarta view in general.[9]

Depiction in art

Statue of Harihara. This statue is the mortuary deified portrayal of King Kertarajasa, the first king of Majapahit (1293-1309) from the temple Candi Simping in East Java.
Harihara sculpture, British Museum. The left half represents Shiva (with the Trishula) and the right half represents Vishnu (with the Chakra and Conch).

Harihara is depicted in art as split down the middle, one half representing Shiva, the other half representing Vishnu. The Shiva half will have the matted locks of a yogic master piled high on his head and sometimes will wear a tiger skin, reserved for the most revered ascetics. Shiva's pale skin may be read as ash-covered in his role as an ascetic. The Vishnu half will wear a tall crown and other jewelry, representing his responsibility for maintaining world order. Vishnu's black skin represents holiness. Broadly, these distinctions serve to represent the duality of humble religious influence in the ascetic and authoritative secular power in the king or householder.[10] However, in other aspects Shiva also takes on the authoritative position of householder, a position which is directly at odds with the ascetic position depicted in his Harihara manifestation.

Harihara has been part of temple iconography throughout South Asia and Southeast Asia, with some illustrations listed in the following table. In some states, the concept of Harihara appears through alternate names and its progeny; for example, temples incorporating Ayyappan and Shasta deities in Kerala illustrate this Hindu tradition there since at least the 7th century.[11]

Temples with Harihara murti (half Vishnu, half Shiva)
Temple nameLocationHarihara murti dateReference
Badami cave templesKarnataka6th century[12]
Dharmaraja RathaTamil Nadu7th century[13]
Birasini templeMadhya Pradesh
Harihareshwara TempleKarnataka13th century[14]
Ossian templesRajasthantwo from 8th century,
one 9th century
Deopani templeAssamtwo from 9th, 10th century[17]
Mukteshvara Temple Odisha 9th-10th Century CE
Saugal-tol templeNepalstatue: 6th century
temple: 12th to 16th century
Purandi templeNepal11th century[19]
Prasat AndetCambodialate 7th to early
8th century
Candi SimpingIndonesia13th or 14th century[22]
Baijnath Temple Himachal Pradesh 13th century [23]
Hariharnath Temple Bihar Exact dates not known. Sonpur, Bihar

See also


  1. David Leeming (2001), A Dictionary of Asian Mythology, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195120530, page 67
  2. Alice Boner (1990), Principles of Composition in Hindu Sculpture: Cave Temple Period, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120807051, pages 89-95, 115-124, 174-184
  3. TA Gopinatha Rao (1993), Elements of Hindu iconography, Vol 2, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120808775, pages 334-335
  4. Ellen Goldberg (2002), The Lord who is half woman: Ardhanārīśvara in Indian and feminist perspective, SUNY Press, ISBN 0-791453251, pages 1-4
  5. "Lord Sambhu [Siva] the greatest of Vaishnavas and vice versa" from Bhag-Purana 12.13.16 Archived 9 October 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  6. , verses 47, 84, of their scripture, Shikshapatri, states, "And the oneness of Narayana and Shiva should be understood, as the Vedas have described both to be brahmaroopa, or form of Brahman, i.e., Saguna Brahman, indicating that Vishnu and Shiva are different forms of the one and same God.
  7. Swaminarayan Satsang - Scriptures Archived 16 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  8. http://www.swaminarayansatsang.com/library/scriptures/scriptureexplanation.asp?IDProduct=762&idcategory=2=
  9. Heart of Hinduism: The Smarta Tradition
  10. Thirty Thousand Years of Art. Phaidon Press Limited. p. 484
  11. Jones and Ryan (2007), Encyclopedia of Hinduism, ISBN 978-0816054589, page 58
  12. TA Gopinatha Rao (1993), Elements of Hindu iconography, Vol 2, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120808775, pages 334-335
  13. World Heritage Sites - Mahabalipuram Archaeological Survey of India, Government of India (2011), Quote: "The sculptures around the sanctum in the corner blocks depict simple forms of Siva, Harihara, Brahma-Sasta, Brahma, a delicately balanced representation of Ardhanarisvara."
  14. Henry Cousens (1996), The Chalukyan Architecture of Kanarese Districts, Archaeological Survey of India, page 93
  15. Harihara temple 1, Osian, Jodhpur, India, University of Chicago Archives
  16. Cynthia Packert Atherton (1997), The Sculpture of Early Medieval Rajasthan, BRILL, ISBN 978-9004107892, pages 42-46
  17. CD Tripathi (2008), Kāmarūpa-Kaliṅga-Mithilā: a politico-cultural alignment in Eastern India : history, art, traditions, IIAS, ISBN 978-8173053276, pages 55-57
  18. Mary Slusser, Saugal-tol temple of Patan, INAS Journal, page 40-41 and 46-48 (images)
  19. Mary Slusser (1996), The Purandi Hoard: Metalwork from Eleventh-Century Nepal, Artibus Asiae, Vol. 56, No. 1/2, pages 95-137, 139-143
  20. Fred Kleiner (2012), Gardner’s Art through the Ages: A Global History, Cengage, ISBN 978-0495915423, pages 443-444
  21. Standing Hari–Hara, Pre–Angkor period The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA
  22. Edi Sedyawati et al (2013), Candi Indonesia: Seri Jawa, Direktorat Jenderal Kebudayaan, ISBN 978-6021766934, pages 246-248
  23. "Baijnath Temple".

Nature of Shiva and Vishnu

Harihara images

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