Sri Dattatreya Swami is very ancient incarnation, highly treated with honor and respect from ages.  ”Dattatreya” is derived from Sanskrit word, as Datta means given to and Aatreya means he born to, Atri muni.  Sri Dattatreya is manifestation of Trimurti, (Bramha Vishnu and Maheshwar). He was born to Sri Atri Maharshi and Mata Anasuya who belongs to vedic age.  Maa Anasuya was famous for her modesty and chastity, with her spiritual power she converted Bramha Vishnu and Maheshwar to newborns who came to examine her purity.  Sage Atri and Ma Anusuya prayed that they should remain as their sons. They consented and the three Gods merged into one body.  This is how Sri Dattatreya incarnated.  He descended on this earth to establish Satyarta Dharma  ‘Satya (the Eternal Truth), ‘Rtha’ (the Cosmic Order).  While Guru Sri Dattatreya is considered to be omnipresent, omnipotent and omniscient, there are a few special places, things and points in time during which one can specially feel his presence and his grace flowing on his devotees:

  • The Salagrama – this is a natural stone, which is considered to be sacred among Hindus across the world. Spherical in shape, these stones are basically formed out of the shell found in riverbeds.
  • Above all, the practice of Yoga and meditation, and contemplating the Jyoti or the Divine Light, can easily lead the seeker to feel the Adiguru’s presence and his grace.

Appearance of Lord Dattatreya:

Sri Dattatreya was at first regarded as an avatar of Shiva and is revered as the Adi-Guru. But later, Vaishnavites claimed that he was an avatar of Vishnu. But many Hindus regard both Shiva and Vishnu as two aspects of the Absolute Brahman. Hence, he went on to identify with the Trinity themselves.  The Dattatreya Upanishad, which is part of the Atharva Veda, describes him as variously taking the form of a child and ‘’Unmatta’’ in order to help his followers attain moksha (liberation) from the material world. All the aspects of Godhead are fully manifest in him. His faces and form are ever radiant with peace and divine charm. Though he moves from place to place, his famous abode is the Holy Audambar tree (Scientific name: Ficus glomerate).

Sri Dattatreya is portrayed in different ways in different traditions among the Hindus. However, the most commonly portrayed as having:

  • Three heads indicate that he has transcended the three gunas, Satva, Rajas and Tamo gunas of Bramha, Vishnu and Maheshwar.
  • Six hands, the lowest two hands holding a Japa Mala reminds us that our primary duty is chanting the sacred name of the Lord and meditating on the feet of the Lord.
  • Kamandalam (water pot) is a life carrier by giving this water as Tirtham to a student it offers good and long life of the student, so that it can aid him in his spiritual journey; his journey along the Path of the Truth.
  • The middle two hands are shown holding the sacred Trishul (armament of Lord Shiva) to kill and punish demons and save mankind. According to Yoga Trishul represents the triple energies of Ida, Pingala and Sushumna, which are contained in a subtle form within us and in the Brahmadanda.
  • Damaruka is the symbol of sound energy from which holy syllables of Lord Shiva came to protect the Universe, which is always expanding (creation) and collapsing.
  • The above two hands are shown holding the sacred Shankha (Conch) represents the eternal sound “OM”– which is the manifestation of the Spirit. It is also the life principle in us and the universe.
  • Chakra (Disc) indicates that He is beyond the cycles of time i.e. the past, present and future and his holding of chakra means he is the controller of time.
  • The Cow, which is always with Him, represents the Mother Earth and Dharma. She is the wish fulfilling cow Kamadhenu.
  • The four dogs represent the four Vedas– the external repositories of Spiritual Wisdom.
  • The ‘Bhasma‘- ashes indicates his ‘Vairaagya‘ dispassion as well as his purity.
  • A begging bowl is to teach us the lesson that we will have to share our wealth and food with others.

The Principles of Dattatreya Tradition:

  • Everyone should know oneself first and should know one’s own reality, which is but God. Do ‘Namasmaran’ – remembrance of the Lord’s name and meditate on it.
  • One should realize the relationship between God, man and creation – the underlying affinity, unity and oneness of these three entities. Brahman is the internal and pervading reality in all matter – it is the origin, the support and sustenance of all.
  • To obtain this vision and discern this truth, one should conquer one’s ego through Yoga and renunciation.
  • Guru’s grace is very important. One has to surrender oneself totally and completely at the feet of the Guru. His grace awakens ‘Gyana’ (enlightenment) by which we can recognize the Reality of Brahman, which is called as Self-Realization.
  • Have purity of thought, word and deed.

24 Gurus:

Sri Dattatreya had twenty four gurus from nature “many are my preceptors,” he told King Yadu, “selected by my keen sense, from whom acquiring wisdom freely, I wander in the world….

  1. Mother Earth – She sustains and nourishes the world and its creations and patiently bears their burden on her own self. Tolerance, patience and self-control are the lessons Datta learnt from her.
  2. Water – Water is the life-sustaining force, which quenches thirst and soothes the body from heat. Its smoothness calms the world.
  3. Fire – Fire is bright, luminous and free of sin. It burns everything, but not cruel or judgmental. It is always pure.
  4. Air – Air is in continuous movement, regardless of good or bad. It is free and unattached to anyone or anything. The seeker too, should be unfettered thus while following the path of the Truth.
  5. Ether – Ether exists everywhere, and yet, is made up of nothingness. It is also unattached.
  6. Sun – It gives light to Earth, breathing life into the planet. It throws its brilliant light on the whole world and cheers everyone.
  7. Snake – The serpent never resides in its own house. It moves around at will, in any direction that it wishes to go. It also does not desire anything for its own happiness or benefit.
  8. Python – The python is unselfish and free of desire. It accepts whatever it can find as food and keeps going its way.
  9. Moon – The moon keeps waxing and waning yet it remains unchanged. Similarly, the seeker should remain unaffected by all changes taking place in his or her life-cycle.
  10. Ocean – The Ocean never changes its appearance or its size during periods of tide and calm. While some adore it, others fear or even hate it. However, it remains unaffected by others’ opinions.
  11. Butterfly – The butterfly always flies around happily, knowing its life is short. It is unattached to anything and willingly embraces death by jumping into the flame of the lamp.
  12. Dove – Doves are messengers of love and peace. They are the embodiment of sensitivity. A seeker should learn to imitate these qualities of a dove.
  13. Fish – Fish are always tempted by the sense of taste. They invariably undergo much pain and suffering and ultimately die. Human beings also exhibit the same tendency of falling for temptation. This should be avoided at all costs.
  14. Honeybee – The honeybee works hard to collect honey, but someone else uses it. Likewise, greedy people make others work hard and enjoy the fruits of others’ hard labor. A seeker should avoid becoming greedy and avaricious.
  15. Deer – The deer is such a gentle creature, always tempted to melodious rhythm and became prey to a vile hunter’s lure. A seeker should be ever cautious of people who exploit others’ weak point for their own benefit.
  16. Elephant – The elephant has amazing memory power. It is capable of remembering people and instances for life. It is also capable of showing much love.
  17. Bhramaram – The Bumble bee makes noise, enjoys the fragrance of flowers, does so without hurting any flower. It also remains unattached to plant or flower.
  18. Pingala – A prostitute called Pingala, lived in the city of Videhnagar. She became disillusioned with her profession and the way she was earning her livelihood. One day, she decided to rectify her ways and dedicate the rest of her life to the service of God. She led a peaceful life ever since.
  19. Eagle – An eagle hold a piece of meat in its beaks and was flying with it. Other greedy eagles began to chase it for the meat and finally grabbed it. The poor eagle was left critically injured in the fight. Seekers should take care not to hoard anything, as they may fall prey to greedy people.
  20. Child – A child is pure of heart and never hurt or hate anybody. One should learn to be flawless like the child.
  21. The Village Girl – A village girl was at home, thrashing rice. Her bangles were making noise as she worked. There were some guests there and she didn’t want to disturb them. Realizing the noise of her bangles could wake them; she removed them and then continued to work. Similarly, a seeker should try not to disturb anyone at any point of time.
  22. Arrow-maker – An arrow-maker was so focused on his work, that he did not even notice a King and his entire army pass by. This quality of attention is something everyone should learn from.
  23. Spider – A spider spins its web from its own mouth and lives in it. Once its use is over, the creature swallows it back. A seeker should also remain free and unattached to material things around him.
  24. Wasp – The wasp is known for its sharp sight and keenness. It keeps pushing and digging their young ones till they turn into fully-grown creatures. Their focus is worth learning from.

Incarnations of Sri Dattatreya:

While Sri Dattatreya was the original manifestation in “Datta Sampradaya” and Guru tradition, His incarnations are:

  1. Shripad SriVallabh.
  2. Sri Narasimha Saraswati.
  3. Sri Manikya Prabhu.
  4. Shree Swami Samarth of Akkalkot.
  5. Sri Sai Baba of Shirdi.

Traditions of the Dattatreya Sect:

Several Dattatreya sects emerged in many parts of India, predominantly in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. About these traditions:

Puranic Tradition

The Puranic tradition of Dattatreya was propagated by several of his oldest disciples, including Kartavirya Sahasrarjuna, Alarka, King Aayu, King Yadu, Sri Parashurama and Saankruti.

Mahanubhav Tradition

The Mahanubhav Panth was brought to the fore by Sri Chakradhar Swami. This sect reveres Guru Sri Datta as the Adiguru or the Original Master. Followers worship Datta as a single-headed deity, with just 2 arms. According to this tradition, the deity continues to rule in all the 4 Yugas and still continues to take different forms, like those of an avadhoot, hunter, sage, tiger and so on.

Sri Gurucharita Tradition

This tradition arises from Sripad Srivallabha and Sri Narasimha Saraswati. The main disciples promoting this sect include Sri Janardanswami, Dasopant, Eknath, Manik Prabhu, Niranjan Raghunath, Narayan Maharaj Jalwankar, Swami Samarth, Gajanan Maharaj, Shirdi Sai Baba, Shi Vasudevananda Saraswati and so on.

Sakalmat Sampradaya Tradition

As the term “Sakalmat” suggests, this tradition accepts followers from all faiths. This is the Rajyogi type of sect and Sri Chaitanya Dev is worshipped as the ultimate deity. This tradition was started by Sri Manik Prabhu. Some of the most prominent followers of this tradition include Bapacharya, Narayan Dikshit and Gopalbua.

Avadhoot Panth Tradition

Started by Sri Pantmaharah Balekindrikar, this tradition spans across the regions of Akol, Balekundri, Belgaum, Daddi, Dharwad, Kochari, Nerali and Gokak. The disciples mainly responsible for the emergence of this tradition, who are also collectively referred to as the “Panth-bandhus” or “Panth Brothers”, are Govindarao, Gopalrao, Shankarrao, Vamanrao and Narasimharao.

Temples of Sri Dattatreya:

Andhra Pradesh: Sri Dattatreya is said to have taken his first avatar as Sri Sripada Srivallabha Swami at Pithapuram in Andhra Pradesh. The Datta temple here is said to be one of the most powerful ever.

Telangana:  Sri Sripada Srivallabha Swami of Pithapuram in Andhra Pradesh at the age of 16 left his home to serve humanity, after roaming whole India he came to Panchadeva Pahad at Kuruvapuram, Mahaboobnagar District in Telangana.

Maharashtra: The Ek Mukhi Dattatreya temple with four hands is very ancient almost 800 years old. Situated near the Vengurla town, this idol is said to have been brought from Narsimavadi.
Another ancient temple in Kolhapur, situated inside the premises of the Vitthala temple near Mirajkar Tikatti. Datta temple of Narayanpur, Pune is also very popular. This one is located at the bottom of the Purandar fort. Dattatreya temple in Deogadh, Ahmednagar district, is said to be very powerful.

Gujarat:  The temple of Narasimha Saraswati in Baroda is very popular among the devotees around that area. The Sri Dattpith Sansthan Pathri at the Vanki River, about 7 kilometers away from the district of Valsad. It is also said that his original footprints can still be seen in a lonely peak at Girnar.


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