Lord Dattatreya

Om Namo Bhagavate Dattatreyaya
Dattatreya is a Hindu God who is an incarnation of the Divine Trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The word Datta means "Given", Datta is called so because the divine trinity have "given" themselves in the form of a son to the sage couple Atri and Anasuya. He is the son of Atri, hence the name "Atreya". In the Natha tradition, Dattatreya is recognized as an Avatar or incarnation of the Lord Shiva and as the Adi-Guru (First Teacher) of the Adi-Nath sampradaya of the Nathas. The creative, the preservative and the disintegrating powers of God are supposed to be manifest in the personality of Lord Dattatreya. The name or word 'Dattatreya' is constituted of two terms, 'Datta' and 'Atreya'. In Sanskrit, 'Datta' means one who is bestowed as a gift, and 'Atreya' is an honorific which is derived from the name of a great sage called Atri. The son of Atri is Atreya. A descendent of Atri also is Atreya. One who is bestowed as a divine child on the great sage Atri, by the Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva themselves, is Dattatreya.

Birth Of Lord Dattatreya

Sage Narad 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 (lunch). 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 dishonor 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. Since the guests asked for alms saying "Bhavati Bhikshan 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 as Durvasa, Dattareya and Chandra (meaning moon).

Physical Details

Shri Dattatreya or Datta Guru, an incarnation who came to light the lamp of wisdom among the people. Shri Dattatreya is a splendorous form. His face radiates all wisdom and draws us away from the lures of the world. Though He is the Supreme Lord of this universe, yet He is a total and supreme recluse. Though He moves from place to place, His favorite abode is the Holy Audambar tree (A type of fig type, Ficus glomerate). He has matted hair on His head. His body is ever smeared with holy ashes and He wears tiger-skin for His garment. A cow and four dogs are always with Him as His constant companions. He is an 'Avadhoot', ever anchored in Spirit, but always overflowing with compassion for all the beings and the entire creation. He is the embodiment of total Godhead. All the aspects of Godhead are fully manifest in Him. His faces and form are ever radiant with peace and divine charm.

The Cow, which is always with Him, represents the Mother Earth and Dharma. She is the wish fulfilling cow 'Kamadhenu'.

The four dogs symbolise the four Vedas – the external repositories of Spiritual Wisdom.

The trident indicates that He has transcended the three gunas, which constitute the illusory world: Sattva-illumination, Rajas-activity and Tamas-inertia.

The 'Sudharshana 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 conch represents the eternal sound ‘AUM’ – which is the manifestation of the Spirit. It is also the life principle in us and the cosmos.

The 'bhasma' ashes indicated His 'Vairaagya' dispassion as well as His purity. Ashes indicate the evanescent nature of all created nature of all created objects and the ultimate state of all matter.

He always carries a begging bowl so as to teach us the lesson that we will have to share our wealth and food with others.

The japa-mala, rosary He wears reminds us that our primary duty is chanting the sacred name of the Lord and meditating on the feet of the Lord, and our redemption depends on this discipline alone.

Shri Dattatreya, in order to bless His devotees and the righteous ones, wanders about in the guise of a random guest at the lunch hour. That's why it is said that a random guest has to be treated as the very embodiment of Lord Dattaterya.

Gurus and subordinate Gurus of Datta

The eleventh skandha (volume) of the Shrimadbhagvat narrates a conversation between Yadu and Avadhut. Here Avadhut names His Gurus and narrates what He learnt from them. Everything in the universe is a Guru because one can learn something or the other from it. From bad things one learns what defects to reject and from good things what good qualities to acquire.

Once, while he was roaming happily in a forest, he met King Yadu, who, on seeing Dattatreya so happy, asked him the secret of his happiness and the name of his Guru. Dattatreya said, “The Self alone is my Guru. Yet, I have learnt wisdom from twenty-four other individuals and objects. So they, too, are also my Gurus.” Dattatreya then mentioned the names of his twenty-four Gurus and spoke of the wisdom that he had learnt from each as follows:

1. The earth: One should acquire the virtues of endurance and tolerance of duality from the earth.

2. The wind: One should be detached like the wind. Just as the wind blows both in the hot and cold regions without being influenced by their qualities or defects so also those desirous of Liberation (mumukshus) should wholeheartedly tread along the path prescribed by the Vedas (Shrutis) in the hot and cold regions without paying attention to virtues or defects of others.

3. The sky: Just like the sky the soul pervades all animate and inanimate objects yet it remains unaltered, single and steady.

4. The water : Just like water one should behave with affection towards all. One should never be partial to anyone.
Just as water retains its impurity at its bed and cleanses others of their impurities so also should man renounce the impurities arising from attachment to the physical body, acquire the treasure of spiritual knowledge and cleanse people with vices, of their sins.
Just as water flows from a higher altitude uprooting impudent trees, nurturing humble vegetation on its way to the low lying land so also liberated souls should destroy the vain and wealthy, punish the hypocrite evildoers and redeem those who surrender to them, of their sins.
Man is akin to water which becomes impure by stagnation and gets purified as it flows. Hence men with a spiritual attitude should visit various places of pilgrimages (tirthakshetras) instead of living in one place.

5. The fire : Like fire, man should undertake austerities and get illumined with knowledge. He should partake of whatever is available, refrain from bad deeds and utilise his virtues only at the opportune moment for a worthwhile cause.
When on a pilgrimage, etc. one should eat whatever is available without accumulating it.
Always remaining pure like the fire one should behave with equality towards all.
Fire delivers the oblations to the deities made in it amidst chanting of their respective Names.
In order to realise the transient nature of the body the flame of fire is considered as a Guru. Just as hardly any time is required to kindle and extinguish a flame so also creation and dissolution of a body from the five cosmic elements does not take long.

6. The moon: There are in all sixteen phases of the moon including the subtle phase of the new moon and the fifteen of the fortnight. Though there is waxing and waning of the moon, it remains unaffected by them. Similarly, the soul is not affected by changes in the body.

7. The sun: The sun stores water taking the future into account and benevolently showers it on the earth at the appropriate moment. In the same way man should store useful things and make them available to all living organisms impartially, considering the time, place and the prevalent conditions.

8. The pigeon: A man who lives with intense attachment for his wife and children feeling that worldly life is pleasurable is destroyed with time just like a pigeon along with its family is devoured by a falcon. Thus a seeker desirous of Liberation (mumukshu) should be mentally detached from all this.

9. The python: The python lies in one place fearlessly having faith in its destiny. It is content with whatever food it gets and has no preferences about the quantity, taste, etc. It does not feel threatened if no food is available for sometime and inspite of having the strength does not make use of it. Similarly those desirous of the Final Liberation should partake of whatever little is available reposing faith in destiny and at times if nothing is available then they should become introverted and remain engrossed in meditating on the soul.

10. The sea : During monsoons just as the sea is neither pleased if the rivers bring in plenty of water nor is displeased if they do not, and consequently does not swell or shrink, so also man should remain steadfast to his duties and should neither feel elated if he experiences worldly pleasures nor unhappy if he is faced with tragedy. He should always remain immersed in Bliss.
One should not let anyone perceive one’s virtues just as the sea keeps its length, breadth, depth and the treasures in its bed hidden from everyone. However one should always utilise them favourably, for the sake of others.

11. The moth: The moth enchanted by the alluring radiance of the lit lamp, dives at it and is soon charred to death. A man who is similarly fascinated by a woman’s beauty and youth for the sake of sexual pleasure finally perishes in it just like the moth.

12. The queen bee and the honey collector : The queen bee: The queen bee builds a hive encountering several difficulties in a cumbersome location high up on a tree and collects honey in it. It neither eats it itself nor lets others feast upon it. Finally all of a sudden the honey collector kills it and takes away the hive along with the honey. In the same way the miser who accumulates wealth with relentless efforts finally either becomes unhappy when it is suddenly lost in the fire, stolen by thieves or taken away by the king or when unrighteous progeny is born to him which misuses it or if he dies issueless. Thus after his death the wealth either remains where it is or is acquired by someone unrelated to him. If at the time of death he still has attachment for that wealth then he harasses the one who enjoys it in the form of a spirit or a serpent. Thus learning that accumulation of wealth leads to sudden death like the honey bee, one should stop amassing wealth.
The honey collector: Just as the one who collects the honey acquires it effortlessly so also a male seeker should partake of food cooked in the home of a householder instead of spending time in making a fire, collecting utensils, firewood, etc. and should devote that time to realise God. Such seekers desirous of Liberation partake of food from householders and ultimately uplift them.

13. The elephant (Gajendra) : Although the elephant is so powerful, man tries to capture it by digging a pit in the ground, covering it with grass and placing a wooden cow elephant covered with elephant skin on that pit. Infatuated by the cow elephant the elephant craves for sexual pleasure and runs towards that wooden cow elephant with speed and falls in the pit. Thus it is easily made a captive by man. Similarly man lured by sensuous pleasure is instantly entrapped in bondage.
Men allured by adulterous women are destroyed in the same way as elephants overcome with lust die fighting amongst themselves.

14. The bumble-bee : The sunflower which blooms with sunrise closes with the sunset. At that time if a bumble-bee is seated on it, then it gets trapped in the flower. Thus realising that attachment to object pleasure gives rise to bondage, one should refrain from such attachment.
Just as the bumble-bee savours the fragrance of several sunflowers instead of one so also seekers desirous of Liberation should realise that every science will not be easy to grasp and hence should try to understand their implied meaning.

15. The Musk deer: The musk deer which is as swift as the wind and can be captured by none, gets enchanted with melodious music and loses its life to others. Keeping this in mind one should not get entrapped in any kind of attachment.

16. The Fish: When a fish-hook fastened with bait is thrown into the water, the fish lured by the bait swallows the hook and gets caught. Thus it loses its life. Man too is trapped in satisfying his taste buds and thus continues to suffer in the whirlpool of births and deaths.

17. The prostitute - Pingala: One night despite a long wait not a single client approached her. As she restlessly waited pacing up and down, hoping for a client she was finally bored and suddenly developed detachment. As long as man has desire he cannot sleep peacefully. The one who sacrifices desire is unaffected by unhappiness.

18. The lapwing: Seeing the lapwing fly with a fish in its beak hundreds of crows and eagles began chasing it, pecking at it and tried to snatch the fish, thus harassing it. This flock began following it wherever it went. Finally exhausted it dropped the fish. Just then an eagle caught the fish. No sooner had the eagle caught the fish than all the crows and eagles began chasing it. The lapwing however calmly perched itself on the branch of a tree. In this world there is peace only if sense objects are rejected, otherwise it leads to great distress.

19. The child: Forsaking respect and disrespect, believing that the universe is governed by destiny one should live carefree like a child and enjoy the Bliss.

20. The bangles: When two bangles strike each other a jingling sound is generated. The more the bangles the greater is the sound. Similarly when two persons live together it leads to conversation and when many persons live together there is strife. In both circumstances there is no peace of mind. Hence those doing meditation, yoga, etc. should search for an isolated place and live there in seclusion.

21. The artisan: One day an artisan was chiselling the blade of an arrow with great concentration. A king’s procession to the accompaniment of music passed by that way. A man arriving later approached the artisan and enquired, “Have you seen the king’s procession passing by this way, just now?” The artisan replied, “I was so engrossesd in my work that I was not aware of anything”. Just like this artisan a seeker desirous of Liberation (mumukshu) should meditate surrendering all his sense organs to The Lord.

22. The snake: Two snakes never live or wander about together. They move around cautiously never making any sound. Instead of making a home for themselves they occupy someone else’s habitat. They neither move around freely, criticise without reason nor get angry unless injured by someone. Thus two intellectuals should not move around together, should speak limitedly, should not quarrel with one another or ridicule anyone, should act thoughtfully, should not address a gathering and should spend their lives living anywhere instead of building a house for themselves. By building a house one develops vanity and consequently attachment develops.

23. The spider: The spider spins a web secreting a fluid from its belly and plays in it day and night. When it feels like it, it swallows the entire web and becomes free again. Similarly God creates the world when He wishes and indulges in various kinds of play in it. When He feels like it, with a resolve He destroys it and becomes single again. Just as a spider can weave a web with its fluid repeatedly so also can God create the universe by a mere resolve, dissolve it within Himself and recreate it at His will. Hence one should not attach importance to worldly events.

24. The wasp: The one who regularly meditates on an object finally merges into it. The wasp builds a house from mud and keeps a worm in it. It lightly blows air over the worm time and again. Consequently the worm meditates on the wasp and finally also becomes a wasp. A seeker desirous of Liberation should in the same manner meditate on God as advised by the Guru so that he merges into God.

Subordinate Gurus

A. The tree: The man who does unrighteous acts under the predominance of the tama component becomes a tree in the next birth and because of his vanity is compelled to remain standing as a tree all his life. These trees remain dependent on others and cleanse themselves of the sins committed in their previous births by pleasantly serving others till they die. That is why they happily offer shelter to birds and other creatures. They also protect their refugees by bearing the brunt of the cold, wind, heat, etc. onto their bodies and offer them their leaves, flowers and fruits for survival. Men break, cut, saw, peel, uproot them, rob them of their flowers, fruits, leaves and even their gum. They are debarked, cut, scraped and used as timber, firewood, etc. Suffering is inflicted upon them according to one’s wish and any possible task is undertaken making use of them. Just as the species of trees endures the suffering inflicted by people on them and continues to serve them till they live so also seekers desirous of Liberation should endure all suffering and continue to serve others till they die.
Just as trees offer shelter to travellers, householders should offer meals to guests coming to their doorstep and give them shelter. If by chance one acquires wealth then one should not become insolent. Just as trees blossoming with flowers and fruits bow down and serve others more so also if one becomes wealthy one should humbly render more service to others.

B. The mountains: The mountains and the earth store precious stones, etc. in their mines. As a result man is benefitted tremendously. Every man should acquire knowledge likewise and use it favourably. Just as in summer mountains quench the thirst of man with their springs so also one should develop the habit of talking melodiously so as to make others happy.

The king was highly impressed by listening to these enlightening words of Lord Dattatreya. He abandoned the world and practised constant meditation on the Self.


DATTATREYA Jayanthi falls during December-January on the full moon day of the month of Margaseersha.

On Dattatreya Jayanthi, get up at Brahmamuhurta and meditate. Fast and pray throughout the day. Do not mix with anybody. Live in total seclusion. Forget the body. Identify yourself with the blissful Self. Study Dattatreya’s glorious works, namely, the Avadhuta Gita and the Jivanmukta Gita. Worship Lord Dattatreya’s (or, your own Guru’s) form. Take wholesome resolves that you will follow the great teachings of Lord Dattatreya. You will realise the Self very soon.

Other Names of Lord Dattatreya

Avadhut - The One who controls the eight faculties in the body of an embodied soul and shows it the path to the unmanifest dimension through the manifest dimension. Avadhut is a medium that connects both the manifest form of Lord Datta and His unmanifest form. He is a manifest form (the gross manifestation) of the three principles - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiv. He is also related to the unmanifest dimension (manifestation of these three principles in the form of light). 'Avadhut' comes alive with the radiance of Lord Dattatreya.

Digambar - Is the principle which gives company to an embodied soul till it gets Final Liberation in the radiance of the sky, i.e. beyond all the directions.

Sripad - 'Sri' is the never-ending principle of God. The principle that takes an embodied soul to that principle of God or to the Holy Feet of 'Sri' principle is the Datta principle in Sripad.

Vallabh - The Datta princ-iple in the form of Vallabh protects the Universe from the circular-shaped distressing frequencies that create a fear psychosis, and thus protects the embodied souls.

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