Shri Dattatreya, his Avataras and Famous Datta Kshetras
Shri Dattatreya is a very ancient incarnation, highly venerated through the ages. Dattatreya – a Universal Guru manifested in the recess of time of ‘Kaliyug’, when humanity had gone far from its pristine state and steeped into threshold of a timewhen all kinds of vices had already taken root, and the pious souls made fervent appealed for the salvage of the mankind surging forward in manifold way. Atri Rishi was one of such Seers who had ‘seen’ and experienced the Brahman, the eternal Wisdom. To him was born a son, the product of the Grace or the Divine Will, which was the manifestation of all three Primal Energies of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. He was ordained with the three energies; He came to have the concentrated wisdom of the three God-heads or symbolically three heads. The three heads signified as Brahma:‘Tejas’ personified, Vishnu:‘Ojas‘ personified, Shiva: ‘Tapas’ personified. Under these heads, illumination of knowledge, vigorosity of action and stringency of penance were represented as three aspects or state of being of the same.
Birth of Lord Dattatreya: Dattatreya had descended into the realm of world as progeny of Atri Maharshi and Anusuya, a sage couple of the Vedic age. Mata Anasuya was very famous for her devotion to her husband (Pativrutya). She was the embodiment of chastity. Such was her spiritual power that hard, uneven earth turned soft and smooth for her as she walked about. This Pious Woman induced jealousy and envy in others, however, and the three Gods decided to prove these doubting elements how wrong they were.
They transformed themselves into mendicants, approached the hermitage of sage Atri and begged for alms. At that time Sage Atri was away at the river offering his daily oblations. Anusuya came out and offered food to them. They made a strange request; the food be prepared and served to them by Anusuya, in the nude. In the Indian tradition any ‘athithi’ (guest) cannot be turned away, as they are considered to be an aspect of God. Hence she was placed in a dilemma. She smiled to herself and reflected thus: ‘I am totally purified by the long association with the holy sage Atri. What harm can the god of lust ever do to me? So I do fear nothing. As they have sought food from my hands, I look upon them as my own children and not as strangers and grown up men!’ Her thoughts – the thoughts of a pious and chaste person – instantly became reality; the elderly guests became babies!
Sage Atri on his return to the hermitage saw his wife Anusuya fondling three babies. Anusuya said “These children are the gift of God to us who have been childless so far”. Sage Atri was overjoyed and named them Datta, which means ‘given’. At this the three Gods reverted to their real forms and disclosed the truth. They extolled the power of Chastity and Purity of Anusuya which vanquished the combined and colossal powers of all three of them. Sage Atri and Anusuya prayed that they should remain as their sons. They consented and the three Gods merged into one body. This is how Shri Dattatreya incarnated and is known as Gurudeva Datta – the Guru of all Gurus.
Sri Dattatreya is always depicted as holding Kamandalu and Japamala (representing Lord Brahma), Conch and Discuss (Shanka Chakra represents Lord Vishnu), Trident and Damaru (Trishula represents Lord Shiva). The Cow behind represents earth , 4 Dogs represents 4 Vedas and Audumbar in itself represents Datta Principle.
Shri Dattatreya had 24 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…. The earth, air/breeze, sky, fire, the sun, pigeon, python, sea, moth, elephant, ant, fish, Pingala the courtesan, arrow-maker, infant/playful boy, the moon, honeybee, deer, bird of prey, maiden, serpent, spider, caterpillar and water are my twenty four preceptors.
Guru Dattatreya gave Ashtanga Yoga (eight fold path of Yoga) to the world thousands of years ago. Patanjali codified this knowledge in sootra forms. It comprises of 8 steps viz., Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
Shri Dattatreya is glorified by Chanting of “Sri Gurudeva Datta” or “Sri Guru Datta, Jai Guru Datta”. Sri Dattatreya is often worshipped in the form of Padukas as can be seen in all the Famous Datta Kshetras like Ganagapur, Girnar, Mahur, Narsobawadi, Kurwapur etc. The Holy Audumbar Tree also signifies the Presence of Lord Dattatreya. Sri Dattatreya can also be worshipped by way of Satya Datta Puja (Ritualistic Worship similar to that of Satyanarayan), Chanting of Datta Mala Mantra or by way of Datta Yaga, Datta Homa etc
Disciples and Followers of Shri Dattatreya
The Disciples of Sri Dattatreya as mentioned in the Puranas are Kartavirya Sahasrarjuna, Bhagvan Sri Parashuram, King Yadu (Son of Yayaati and Devayaani) of Yadavas (Krishna’s Dynasty), Alarka (Madalasa-garbharatna), King Ayu from Somavansha and Prahlad. There is one more by name Sankruti mentioned in Avadhutopanishad and Jabaldarshanopanishad.
The Followers of Sri Dattatreya include Many Sects like Natha Tradition of Navanatha headed by Avadhutas like Sri Gorakshanath,Sri Matsyendra Nath etc, Mahanubhava Sect of Sri Chakradhar Swami, Niranjan Raghunath Tradition, Chaitanya Sect of Raghav Chaitanya, Ananda sect, Sakalmat Sampradaya of Sri Manik Prabhu, Avadhuta Panth of Sri Panth Maharaj Balekundri of Belgaum, Sects of Devotees in Gujrat and Andhrapradesh. Warkari Sampradaya of Maharashtra also rever Shri Dattareya as Adi Guru. Sant Eknath, Janardan Swami and Sant Tukaram have composed many Abhangas and Aartis on Sri Dattatreya. “Trigunatmaka Trimurti” Aarti Pada of Sri Eknath Maharaj and “Teen Shire Saha Hath” Abhang of Sant Tukaram are quite Famous.
Incarnations or Avataras of Lord Dattatreya
Numerous are the incarnations Which undergo dissolution with the passage of time Lord Dattatreya (that is the Guru principle) however is unlike this, He never undergoes dissolution. (Ref : Ramavijay 13:21 by Bhagavan Sri Shridhar Swami Maharaj)
In all, Shri Datta assumed 16 Main Incarnations. The book ‘Shri Dattatreya Shodashavataraha’ by H.H. Sri Vasudevanand Saraswati Tembe Swami Maharaj narrates the stories of these incarnations.
Incarnations / Avataras of Lord Dattatreya in Kaliyuga are :
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