|Affiliation||Avatar of Trimurti|
|Abode||Varies per interpretation|
|Symbols||Shankha, chakra, Lotus, Trishula, Kamandalu, Damaru|
|Siblings||Chandra and Durvasa|
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Dattatreya (Sanskrit: दत्तात्रेय, IAST: Dattātreya), Dattā or Dattaguru, is a paradigmatic Sannyasi (monk) and one of the lords of yoga, venerated as a Hindu god. In Maharashtra, Goa, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh he is a syncretic deity, In Bengal he is known as 'Trinath', avatar of the three Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, who are also collectively known as the Trimurti. In other regions, and some versions of texts such as Garuda Purana, Brahma Purana and Sattvata Samhita, he is an avatar of Vishnu only. Several Upanishads are dedicated to him, as are texts of the Vedanta-Yoga tradition in Hinduism. One of the most important texts of Hinduism, namely Avadhuta Gita (literally, "song of the free soul") is attributed to Dattatreya. Over time, Dattatreya has inspired many monastic movements in Shaivism, Vaishnavism, and Shaktism, particularly in the Deccan region of India, south India, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himalayan regions where Shiva tradition has been strong. His pursuit of simple life, kindness to all, sharing of his knowledge and the meaning of life during his travels is reverentially mentioned in the poems by Tukaram, a saint-poet of the Bhakti movement.
According to Rigopoulos, in the Nath tradition of Shaivism, Dattatreya is revered as the Adi-Guru (First Teacher) of the Adinath Sampradaya of the Nathas, the first "Lord of Yoga" with mastery of Tantra (techniques), although most traditions and scholars consider Adi Nath to be an epithet of Lord Shiva. According to Mallinson, Dattatreya is not the traditional guru of the Nath Sampradaya but instead was co-opted by the Nath tradition in about the 18th century as a guru, as a part of Vishnu-Shiva syncretism. This is evidenced by the Marathi text Navanathabhaktisara, states Mallinson, wherein there is syncretic fusion of the Nath Sampradaya with the Mahanubhava sect by identifying nine Naths with nine Narayanas.
Dattatreya iconography varies regionally. In Maharashtra, for example, he is typically shown with three heads and six hands, one head each for Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva who represent the Trimurti, the 3 main gods in Hinduism, and one pair of hands holding the symbolic items associated with each of these gods: japamala and water pot of Brahma, conch and discus of Vishnu, trident and drum of Shiva. He is typically dressed as a simple monk, situated in a forest or wilderness suggestive of his renunciation of worldly goods and pursuit of a meditative yogic lifestyle. In paintings and some large carvings, he is surrounded by four dogs and a cow, which symbolise the four Vedas and mother earth who nourishes all living beings. In the temples of southern Maharashtra, Varanasi, and in the Himalayas, he is shown with one head and two hands accompanied by four dogs and a cow.
An annual festival in the Hindu calendar month of Mārgaśīrṣa (November/December) reveres Dattatreya and is known as Datta Jayanti.
In the Puranas, he was born in an Indian hermitage to Anasuya and her husband, the Vedic sage, Atri who is traditionally credited with making the largest contribution to the Rigveda. It is said that they lived in Mahur, Nanded District, Maharashtra. Another states that his father lived in the western Deccan region. A third claims he was born in the jungles of Kashmir near the sacred Amarnath Temple. A fourth legend states he was born along with his brothers Durvasa and Chandra, to an unwed mother named Anusuya, In a fifth myth, sage Atri was very old when young Anusuya married him and they sought the help of the trimurti gods for a child. As the trinity were pleased with them for having brought light and knowledge to the world, instantly granted the boon, which led Dattatreya to be born with characteristics of all three.
While his origins are unclear, stories about his life are clearer. He is described in the Mahabharata as an exceptional Rishi (sage) with extraordinary insights and knowledge, who is adored and raised to a Guru and an Avatar of Vishnu in the Puranas. Dattatreya is stated in these texts to having renounced the world and leaving his home at an early age to lead a monastic life. One myth claims he meditated immersed in water for a long time, another has him wandering from childhood and the young Dattatreya footprints have been preserved on a lonely peak at Girnar (Junagadh, Gujarat). and Dattatray make a tapa for 12000 years over there. The Tripura-rahasya refers to the disciple Parasurama finding Dattatreya meditating on Gandhamadana mountain, Near Rameswaram, Tamil Nadu.
Dattatreya is said to have his lunch daily by taking alms at a holy place Pithapuram, Andhra Pradesh, where he was born as Sripada Sri Vallabha (his first avatar).
The young Dattatreya is famous in the Hindu texts as the one who started with nothing and without teachers, yet reached self-awareness by observing nature during his Sannyasi wanderings, and treating these natural observations as his twenty four teachers. This legend has been emblematic in the Hindu belief, particularly among artists and Yogis, that ideas, teachings and practices come from all sources, that self effort is a means to learning. The 24 teachers of Dattatreya are:
|Serial Number||Guru||Observation||Dattatreya's Learning|
|1.||Earth||Steadfastly productive, does its dharma, gets abused, heals and is steady in giving nourishment.||forbearance, remain undisturbed even if oppressed, keep healing even if others injure you|
|2.||Wind||Passes through everything and everyone, unchanged, unattached, like Truth; sometimes becomes a gale, disturbs and changes the world, like Truth.||be free like the wind, yet resolute true to your own force|
|3.||Sky||the highest has no boundaries, no limits, is unaffected even if clouds and thunderstorms come and go||the highest within oneself, the Atman (self, soul) has no limits, it is undifferentiated non-dual no matter what, let the clouds of materiality pass, be one with your soul and the Universal Self|
|4.||Water||serves all without pride, discrimination; is transparent to everyone; purifies and gives life to everyone it touches||a saint discriminates against no one and is never arrogant, lets other give him impurity, yet he always remains pure and cleanses|
|5.||Fire||purifies and reforms everything it comes in contact with, its energy shapes things||the heat of knowledge reforms everything it comes in contact with, to shape oneself one needs the energy of learning|
|6.||Moon||waxes and wanes but its oneness doesn't change||birth, death, rebirth and the cycle of existence does not change the oneness of soul, like moon it is a continuous eternal reality|
|7.||Sun||source of light and gives its gift to all creatures as a sense of duty; in rain puddles it reflects and seems like distinct in each puddle, yet it is the same one Sun||the soul may appear different in different bodies, yet everyone is connected and the soul is same in all; like Sun, one must share one's gifts as a sense of duty|
|8.||Pigeons||they suffer losses in the hands of violent hunters, warn against obsessive attachments to anyone or to material things in this world||do not be obsessive, don't focus on transient things such as damage or personal loss, human life is a rare privilege to learn, discover one's soul and reach moksha|
|9.||Python||eats whatever comes its way, makes the most from what it consumes||be content with what you have, make the most from life's gifts|
|10.||Bumblebee||active, works hard to build and create its reserve by directly visiting the flowers, but is selective and uses discretion, harmonious with flowers and never kills or over consumes||be active, go directly to the sources of knowledge, seek wisdom from all sources but choose the nectar, be gentle, live harmoniously and leave others or other ideologies alone when you must|
|11.||Beekeeper||profits from honeybees||don't crave for material pleasures or in piling up treasures, neither the body nor material wealth ever lasts|
|12.||Hawk||picks up a large chunk of food, but other birds harass him, when it drops its food other birds leave him alone||take what you need, not more|
|13.||Ocean||lucid at the surface, but deep and undisturbed within; receives numerous rivers yet remains the same||let rivers of sensory input not bother who you are deep inside, know your depths, seek self-knowledge, be unperturbed by life, equipoise|
|14.||Moth||is deceived by its senses, it runs to the fire in misunderstanding which kills it||question your senses, question what others are telling you, question what you see, know senses can deceive, seek reason|
|15.||Elephant||is deceived by his lust, runs after the smell of a possible mate, and falls into a pit made by mahouts then fettered and used||don't lust after something or someone, don't fall into traps of others or of sensory gratification|
|16.||Deer||is deceived by his fear, by hunters who beat drums and scare him into a waiting net||fear not the noise, and do not succumb to pressure others design for you|
|17.||Fish||is deceived by bait and so lured to its death||greed not the crumbs someone places before you, there are plenty of healthy opportunities everywhere|
|18.||Courtesan||exchanges transient pleasure with body, but feels dejected with meaningless life, ultimately moves on||many prostitute their time, self-respect and principles for various reasons but feel dejected with their career and circumstances, seek meaning and spirituality in life, move on to doing things you love to do|
|19.||Child||lives a life of innocent bliss||be a child, curious, innocent, blissful|
|20.||Maiden||she is poor yet tries her best to feed her family and guest, as she cooks she avoids attracting attention to her kitchen and poverty, by breaking all her bangles except one on each wrist||don't seek attention, a yogi accomplishes and shares more through solitude|
|21.||Snake||lives in whatever hole that comes his way, willingly leaves bad skin and molts||a yogi can live in any place, must be ready to molt old ideas and body for rebirth of his spirit|
|22.||Arrowsmith||the best one was so lost in his work that he failed to notice the king's procession that passed his way||concentrate on what you love to do, intense concentration is the way to self-realization|
|23.||Spider||builds a beautiful web, destroys and abandons the web, then restarts again||don't get entangled by your own web, be ready to abandon it, go with your Atman|
|24.||Caterpillar||starts out closed in a tiny nest but ultimately becomes a butterfly||long journeys start small, a disciple starts out as insignificant but ultimately becomes a spiritual master|
The appearance of Shri Dattatreya in pictures varies according to traditional beliefs. A typical icon for Dattatreya, particularly popular with Marathi-speaking people in India, has three heads corresponding to Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, and six hands; the lowest two hands carry japamala and water pot (kamandalu), middle pair of hands hold hourglass mini-drum (damaru) and trident (trishul), and top two hands have conch (shankh) and spinning wheel (chakra).
Many older medieval temples of Dattatreya show him with just one head, such as the one in Mahur, one at Narayanpur on Pune Satara Road, Near Pune, and another in Pandharpur, both in southern Maharashtra. Texts such as Agni Purana describe the architectural features for building murti, and for Dattatreya, it recommends him with one head and two hands. In Varanasi, Nepal, north Himalayan foothill states of India, 15th-century Nath temples of Dattatreya show him with just one face. In western parts of Maharashtra, the syncretic six armed and three faced iconography is more common.
He is the motif of the '"honey bee" Yogin who has realized advaita knowledge. Dattatreya as the archetypal model of syncretism:
Furthermore, the unfolding of the Dattātreya icon illustrates the development of Yoga as a synthetic and inclusive body of ideologies and practices. Although fundamentally a jñāna-mūrti, Dattātreya is a "honey bee" Yogin: one whose character and teachings are developed by gathering varieties of Yoga's flowers. For all religious groups whose propensity it is to include ideas, practices, and teaching from the ocean of traditions, Dattātreya is truly a paradigm.— Antonio Rigopoulos, Dattātreya: the immortal guru, yogin, and avatāra
Another distinctive aspect of Dattatreya iconography is that it includes four dogs and a cow. The four dogs represent the Vedas, as trustworthy all weather friends, company and guardians, while the cow is a metaphor for mother earth who silently and always provides nourishment.
Dattatreya's sculptures with alternate iconography have been identified in 1st millennium CE cave temples and archaeological sites related to Hinduism. For example, in the Badami temple (Karnataka), Dattatreya is shown to be with single head and four hands like Vishnu, but seated in a serene Yoga posture (padmasana). Carved with him are the emblems (lañchana) of the Trimurti, namely the swan of Brahma, the Garuda of Vishnu and the Nandi of Shiva. The right earlobe jewelry and hair decoration in this art work of Dattatreya is of Shiva, but on his left the details are those of Vishnu. Rigopoulos dates this Badami sculpture to be from the 10th to 12th century.
A sculpture similar to Badami, but with some differences, has been discovered in Ajmer (Rajasthan). The Ajmer art work is a free statue where Dattatreya is standing, has one head and four hands. In his various hands, he carries a Trishula of Shiva, a Chakra of Vishnu, a Kamandalu of Brahma, and a rosary common to all three. Like the Badami relief work, the Ajmer iconography of Dattatreya shows the swan of Brahma, the Garuda of Vishnu and the Nandi of Shiva carved on the pedestal with him.
Some scholars such as James Harle and TA Gopinatha Rao consider iconography that presents Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva together as Hari Hara Pitamaha to be synonymous with or equivalent to Dattatreya. Antonio Rigopoulos questions this identification, and suggests that Harihara Pitamaha iconography may have been a prelude to and something that evolved into Dattatreya iconography.
Always be learning
The investigators of the true nature of the world are uplifted by their own efforts in this world. The self is the infallible guide of the self: through direct perception and through analogy one can work out one's salvation.
– Dattatreya, Bhagavata Purana XI.7.19
Translated by Klaus Klostermaier
The historic Indian literature has interpreted the representation of Dattatreya symbolically. His three heads are symbols of the Gunas (qualities in Samkhya school of Hinduism). The three Gunas are Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. The six hands have ethical symbolism, namely Yamas, Niyama, Sama, Dama, Daya and Shanti (axiology in Yoga and Vedanta school of Hinduism).
The Kamadhenu cow is symbolic Panchabutas, the four dogs are inner forces of a human being: Iccha, Vasana, Asha and Trishna. In these interpretations, Dattatreya is that yogi Guru (teacher) who has perfected all these, rules them rather than is ruled by them, and is thus the Guru Dattatreya is beyond them.
The Dattatreya Upanishad (tantra-focussed), Darshana Upanishad (yoga-focussed) and particularly the Avadhuta Upanishad (advaita-focussed) present the philosophy of the Dattatreya tradition. Dattatreya is also mentioned in the classic text on Yoga, the Shandilya Upanishad.
Other Upanishads where Dattatreya's name appears in lists of ancient Hindu monks revered for their insights on renunciation are Jabala Upanishad, Naradaparivrajaka Upanishad, Bhikshuka Upanishad and Yajnavalkya Upanishad. Of these, his mention in the Jabala Upanishad is chronologically significant because this ancient text is dated to have been complete between the 3rd century BCE and 3rd century CE.
Tripura Rahasya is also an important ancient text attributed to Dattatreya.
Dattatreya is mentioned in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
Dattatreya is mentioned in the ancient chapter 9 of the Sattvata Samhita and chapter 5 of the Ahirbudhnya Samhita, both among the oldest layer of texts in the Vaishnava Agama tradition (Pancaratra). Schrader states these texts and the chronology of Dattatreya are older than the Mahabharata, but Rigopoulos disagrees with him on the chronology.
In the Hindu tradition, Dattatreya is the author of Avadhuta Gita, or the "Song of the free". The text's poetry is based on the principles of Advaita Vedanta, one of the subschools of Hindu philosophy.
The extant manuscripts have been dated to approximately the 9th or 10th century, but it may have existed earlier as part of an oral tradition. It consists of 289 shlokas (metered verses), divided into eight chapters.
P.P. Vasudevanand Saraswati Tembe Swami Maharaj has written an extensive literature on Lord Dattatreya and his incarnations including Sripada Srivallabha of Pithapur, Andhra Pradesh and Shri Nrusimhsaraswati Swami Maharaj of Ganagapur, Karnataka. The literature mainly includes Stotras-Hymns that praise lord Dattatreya and various deities, books on Lord Dattatreya.
Several Hindu monastic and yoga traditions are linked to Dattatreya: