Sri Dattatreya
Dattatreya is considered by Hindus to be the supreme God, and more widely as encompassing the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The name Dattatreya can be divided into two words - "Datta" (meaning given) and "Atreya" (meaning sage Atri). Atri sage was given the boon by supreme lord that He will come as his son, hence the name Dattatreya.


Life
Sage Narada praised Anusuya's "pativratyam" (Devotion to her husband) a lot before the wives of Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva making them jealous of her. They requested their husbands to reduce her pativratyam. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva went to Anusuya as guests when Atri was not there at home and asked her to serve them food. When she agreed to do so, they said that they will accept her alms on the condition that she serves them without wearing clothes. Anasuya falls into a dilemma. If she comes without clothes in front of other men her pativratyam will be reduced. If she refuses then that is dishonour to the guests and they can take away all the power of Atri. Anasuya felt that the three guests who asked such a strange favour are not normal people since they are trying to place her in a tricky situation. Anasuya prayed to her husband in her mind and said that she doesn't have any fear serving them without clothes as she is not affected by lust. The guests asked for alms saying "Bhavati Bhiksham Dehi" (Oh Mother! Give us some food) and indirectly called her a mother, she decided that she will consider them as her children and serve them as requested. Because of her greatness and as per her thinking by the time she came to serve food the three gods became small children and her breasts started producing milk. She then breastfed them and put them to sleep in a cradle. Atri came back afterwards and hearing the story from Anasusuya praised the three gods sleeping in the cradle. They woke up in their original form and praised Anasuya's pativratyam and gave her a boon. Anasuya requested that these three should be born as her children-the incarnation of Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma.

Travels Dattatreya left home at an early age to wander naked in search of the Absolute. He seems to have spent most of his life wandering in the area between and including North Karnataka, through Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, and into Gujarat as far as the Narmada River. He attained realization at a town, now known as, Ganagapura in North Karnataka. The original footprints of Datta are believed to be located on the lonely peak at Girnar. The Tripura-rahasya refers to the disciple Parasurama finding Datta meditating on Gandhamadana mountain.


Gurus
According to Brahma Purana, after an order from his father, Sage Atri, Dattatreya sat on the banks of river Gautami and prayed to Shiva and finally earned the Brahmagyaan (Eternal Knowledge). This is possibly the reason why Dattatreya is considered as Adisiddha in Nath Sampradaya. In the Uddhava Gita a song embedded in the Bhagavata Purana, there is a story of Dattatreya sung by Krishna which enumerates a list of his twenty-four gurus: earth, air, sky or ether, water, fire, sun, moon, python, pigeons, sea, moth, bee, bull elephant, bear, deer, fish, osprey, a child, a maiden, a courtesan, a blacksmith, serpent, spider, and wasp. The 24 Gurus of Dattateya come from the 24 gurus of Avadhuta described in the Purana.


His disciples
The disciples of Dattatreya are: Kartavirya Arjuna, Parasuram, Yadu, Alarka, Ayu and Prahlad. These are known from Puranas. There is one more by name Sankruti described in Avadhutopanishad and Jaabaaldarshanopanishad.


As an avatar
Dattatreya was regarded as an avatar of Maheshwara (Shiva) but later was claimed by Vaishnavites as the avatar of Vishnu. Not such a sectarian claim as it appears; Hindus regard Shiva and Vishnu as the same or as manifestations of the Absolute taking form. Indeed, the Dattatreya Upanisad, which opens proclaiming Dattatreya's identity with Vishnu, ends with the mantra Om Namah Shivaya, identifying Datta with Shiva. In the last portion of the third chapter, Mahesvara (Shiva) alone is said to pervade reality and shine in every heart of man. He alone is in front, behind, to the left, to the right, below, above, everywhere the center. Finally, Mahesvara is identified with Dattatreya, depicting the latter as an Avatara of Shiva.
Iconography
Dattatreya is usually depicted with three heads, symbolising Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; past, present and future; creation, preservation and destruction; and the three states of consciousness: waking, dreaming and dreamless sleep. He is portrayed sitting in meditation with hisshakti beneath the 'wish tree' (Sanskrit: Kalpavriksha) with the 'wish cow' (Sanskrit: Kamadhenu) attendant. In front of him is a 'fire pit' (Sanskrit: Agnihotra) or 'pit' (Sanskrit: homa) the receiver of the oblation of 'sacrifice' (Sanskrit: yajna), and around him are four dogs.


Dogs
Pre-Vedic Indian dogs were regarded as auspicious symbols, and later deities assumed dog forms, became associated with dogs, and were linked with the glory and fidelity of warriors. Four different-coloured dogs accompanied the Dattatreya, who represented the four Vedas. Dogs also held the cultural significance of 'dog eaters' (Sanskrit: candala) those who existed beyond the confines of Varnashrama Dharma. Dogs are also both wild, tame and symbols of fidelity and devotion (Sanskrit: bhakti).


Tripura Rahasya
The Tripura-rahasya (The Secret of [the goddess] Tripura) is believed to be an abbreviated version of the original Datta Samhita or Dakshinamurti Samhita traditionally ascribed to Dattatreya. This more lengthy work was summarized by Dattatreya's disciple Paramasura, whose disciple, Sumedha Haritayana, scribed the text. Thus, this text is sometimes referred to as the Haritayana Samhita.

The Tripura-rahasya is divided into three parts. The first part, the Mahatmya Khanda or section on the goddess is concerned with the origin, mantra and yantra of the goddess Tripura, also known as Lalita or Lalita Tripurasundari. The Jnana Khanda or section on knowledge elaborates on the themes of consciousness, manifestation, and liberation. Unfortunately, the last part, Charya Khanda or section on conduct, has been lost and some believe destroyed.

In the Tantric tradition, the Tripuropastipaddhati is supposed to have been written by Shri Dattareya. This is mentioned in Tripurarahasya. The summary of tantra in the Parashuramkalpasutram is also supposed to have been written by Shri Dattatreya.


Avadhuta Gita
According to the International Nath Order of the Nath Sampradaya, the "Avadhuta Gita is a distillation of the sublime realization sung by Dattatreya and transcribed by two of his disciples, Swami and Kartika." Some of the ideas in this Gita are however common to both Shaivite, and Buddhist Tantras and VaishnavaAgamas.


Dattatreya traditions
Following are the various traditions of Dattatreya described in brief. Mainly the traditions are from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka andAndhra Pradesh. Considering the languagewise literature, they are from Gujarati, Marathi, Kannada and Telugu languages.


Puranic tradition
The ancient disciples of Dattatreya are already described in the above sections. Among these, Karatavirya Sahasrajun was the most favourite of Dattatreya. The other ones are, Alarka (alias Madalasa-garbharatna), King Aayu from Somavansha, King Yadu (son of Yayaati and Devayaani) of Yadavs (Krishna's dynasty) and Shri Parashurama. There is one more by name Saankruti, who is mentioned in Avadhutopanishad and Jabalopanishad.


Mahanubhav tradition
Mahanubhav Panth, propagated by Sri Chakradhar Swami, considers Dattatreya as their Adi Guru (the original Guru). Sri Chakradhar Swami disclosed to His disciples that Dattatreya, like Him, was an incarnation of supreme lord, parmeshwar. They worship Dattatreya as single headed with two arms. According to their belief, His avatar is chaturyugi i.e., It remains in all four yugas, viz. Satyug, Tretayug, Dwaparyug, Kaliyug. He still wanders in different bodies like avadhut, baagh (tiger), hunter, sage etc. Srimad Bhagavatam's tenth volume has a mention of Dattatreya's discourse given to king Yadu in tretayug. On seeing Dattatreya disguised in avadhut form, king Yadu got instantly attracted towards Him and begged to bestow him with secrets to attain Moksha. Dattatreya Prabhu gave him Brahmjnaan and went away in wilderness. The same was shared by Krishna with prince Uddhav in dwaparyug and is scripted in tenth volume of Srimad Bhagavatam. That is how it got the name - Uddhav Geeta from the Mahanubhav followers. Even today, many followers visit places in Maharashtra where Sri Dattatreya was known to have visited. Sri Datta jayanti usually falls in December and that is time of the year Maharashtra attracts many disciples.


Shri Gurucharitra tradition
This tradition follows from Shripad Shrivallabha and Shri Narasimha Saraswati. Several very famous Datta-avatars are from this tradition. Some names are, Shri Janardanswami, Eknath, Dasopant, Niranjan Raghunath, Narayan Maharaj Jalwankar, Manik Prabhu, Swami Samarth, Sai Baba of Shirdi, Shri Vasudevananda Saraswati et al. The disciples of Shri Narasimha Saraswati were, Trivikrambharati from Kumasi, Sayamdev, Nagnath, Devrao Gangadhar and Saraswati Gangadhar from Kadaganchi.


Niranjan Ragunath tradition
His original name was Avadhut, but his guru Shri Raghunathswami renamed him as Niranjan. He had several disciples in Maharashtra in Nashik, Junnar, Kalamb, Kolhapur, Meeraj etc., to name a few are Ramchandra Tatya Gokhale, Govindarao Nana Patwardhan-shastri etc. His heritage seems to have gone beyond Surat, Baroda, Girnar and north of Jhansi.


Sakalmat Sampradaya tradition
The meaning of sakalmat is, all faiths are accepted (Sakala means All and mata means opinion, but here we have to take the meaning asfaith). This is a form of Datta-sampradaya which is called Rajyogi or Royal type. Shri Chaitanya Dev is the main worshipped god here and this sampradaya one views gold, pearls, diamonds, expensive clothes and music, art etc. as part of tradition. Here poor and rich are considered as the same. Thus all the materialistic items are viewed at par with nothing. The philosophy of this tradition is that there is no resistance to any kind of religious faiths in the world. All faiths are believed to give the ultimate godliness to its followers. This tradition was started by ShriManik Prabhu of Humanabad. Hindus, Muslims and people of all castes are allowed here. Some disciples of this tradition are, Bapacharya, Narayan Dikshit, Chimnya Bramhachari, Gopalbua.


Avadhut Panth tradition
The Avadhut panth or sect was started by Shri Pantmaharaj Balekundrikar of Balekundri near Belgaum. The main disciples of this tradition are, Govindaraoji, Gopalraoji, Shankarraoji, Vamanrao and Narasimharao. These are all called "Panta-bandhu"s i.e. Panta-brothers. This sampradaya is spread across Balekundri, Daddi, Belgaum, Akol, Kochari, Nerali, Dharwad, Gokak, Hubali.


In Gujarat
Shri Vamanbua Vaidya from Baroda is from the tradition of Shri Kalavit Swami. His philosophical tradition is furthered by Saswadkar, and Pattankar. The temple of Narasimha Saraswati in Baroda continues this tradition of Dattatreya devotion. The main Dattatreya devotees who spread the Datta-panth in Gujarat were Pandurang Maharaj of Naareshwar and Shrirang Avadhut.


In Andhra Pradesh
The first avatara of Dattatreya, Shri Shripad Shrivallabha was from Pithapuram in Andhra Pradesh. Around 1550 CE, Dattatreya Yogi taught the Dattatreya philosophy to his disciple Das Gosavi in Marathi. Das Gosavi then taught this philosophy to his two Telugu disciples Gopalbhatt and Sarvaved who studied and translated Das Gosavi's book of Vedantavyavaharsangrahainto Telugu language. DattatreyaYogi and Das Gosavi are the original gurus in the Telugu Dattatreya tradition. Dattatreya Shatakamu was written by Paramanandateertha who is equally important in his contributions to the Telugu tradition of Dattatreya. He was a proponent of Advaita philosophy and dedicated his two epics, Anubhavadarpanamu and Shivadnyanamanjari to Shri Dattatreya.


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