Dattatreya Rishi - Vedic Saint

Dattatreya (Sanskrit: दत्तात्रेय, Dattātreya) or Datta is considered by Hindus to be 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 Nath tradition, Dattatreya is recognized as an Avatar or incarnation of the Lord Shiva and as the Adi-Guru (First Teacher) of the Adinath Sampradaya of the Nathas. Although Dattatreya was at first a "Lord of Yoga" exhibiting distinctly Tantric traits,[citation needed] he was adapted and assimilated into the more 'devotional' (Sanskrit: bhakti) Vaishnavite cults; while still worshiped by millions of Hindus, he is approached more as a benevolent god than as a teacher of the highest essence of Indian thought. Dattreya is the author of Tripura Rahasya given to Parsurama, best treatise on Advaita Vedanta.

Though the Dattatreya of the Natha tradition coexisted and intermingled with the Puranic, Brahmanical tradition of the Datta sampradaya, here focus is almost exclusively on the earlier Tantric manifestation of Datta.[citation needed]

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. 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 sage Durvasa, Dattareya and the moon-god Chandra.[citation needed] In Mahabharata,[1] Dattatreya is referred to as from the family tree of sage Atri rather than as son of sage Atri. The epic Shishupal Vadha (execution of Shishupala) of poet Magha also refers (14.79) to Dattatreya to be from Atri's family tree and not as his son.

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 place not far from the town now known as Gangapura 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.

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 Avadhut 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
In The Pathless Path to Immortality, Mahendranath writes:
"Shri Dattatreya was a dropout of an earlier age than the period when Veda and Tantra merged to become one simple cult. It was men like Dattatreya who helped to make this possible. Three of his close disciples were kings, one an Asura and the other two both belonging to the warrior caste. Dattatreya himself 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."[unreliable source?]

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.

The nectar of the honey-bee
Rigopoulos (1998: p.xii) conveys the motif of the '"honey bee" Yogin' (as an aside, the literary point of origin of this motif may be the Nad-Bindu Upanishad of the Rig Veda) common to nondual Dharmic Traditions and champions Dattatreya as the archetypal model of inclusionism and syncretism by implication:

"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."

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 his shakti 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.

Werness (2004: p.138) ventures the semiology of the four dogs each of a different colour oft-depicted in Dattatreya iconography as holding the valence of the four Vedas:

"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...".[3]

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).

Dattatreya is one of the oldest of the deities. The first reference of this deity is found in epics like Mahabharata[4] and Ramayana.

In the Dattatreya Upanishad which is a part of the Atharva Veda, he is described as being able to appear in the form of a child, madman, or demon in order to help his devotees achieve moksha, liberation from the bonds of worldly existence.[5]

The single head for Dattatreya can be explained if one sees the Tantric traditions which prevailed in India about 1000 years back. It was Gorakshanath who changed removed the aghori traditions and made the Nath sampradaya in the acceptable civil form of today. Dattatreya must have been a very powerful sage existing before this time and over the centuries sometime he was deified to the form of Dattatreya. The three heads have come definitely later in the last 900 years or so.[6]

Dattatreya incarnation of the Divine Trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Siva and his avatars- Shripad Shri Vallabha, Sri Nrusimha Saraswati and Swami Samarth Maharaj.

Dattatreya is supposed to have taken 16 avatars. The names and their birthdate (as per the Lunar calendar) are given in brackets.

1. Yogiraaj (Kaartik Shu.15)
2. Atrivarad (Kaartik Kru.1)
3. Dattatreya (Kaartik Kru.2)
4. Kaalaagnishaman (Maargashirsha Shu.14)
5. Yogijanvallabh (Maargashirsha Shu.15)
6. Lilaavishambhar (Paush Shu.15)
7. Siddharaaj (Maagh Shu.15)
8. Dnyaasaagar (Faalgun Shu.10)
9. Vishambhar (Chaitra Shu.15)
10. Maayaamukta (Vaishaakh Shu.15)
11. Maayaamukta (Jyeshtha Shu.13)
12. Aadiguru (Aashaadh Shu.15)
13. Shivarup (Shraavan Shu.8)
14. Devdev (Bhaadrapad Shu.14)
15. Digambar (Aashwin Shu.15)
16. Krishnashyaamkamalnayan (Kaartik Shu.12)

There is a book written by Shri Vasudevananda Saraswati on these 16 avatars. In Dasopanta tradition, all 16 are worshiped and Dasopanta is considered as the 17th avatara.

In Datta Sampradaya the first avatar is Shripad Shri Vallabh and the second is Narasimha Saraswati. Also Akkalkot Swami Samarth, Shri Vasudevanand Saraswati (Tembe Swami, Sawantwadi)) Manik Prabhu, Krishna Saraswati , Shirdi Sai Baba (Shirdi, Maharashtra), Ganapathi Sachchidananda (Mysore, Karnataka) are considered as avatars of Dattatreya.

The Upanishads Avadhutopanishad and Jaabaaldarshanopanishad mention that the philosophy is given by Dattatreya.

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.[8] Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) held it in high esteem. Originally a work of seven chapters, a spurious and misogynistic eighth chapter may be a later attempt to append sexual morality to the Natha tradition by a conservative ascetic. Some of the ideas in this Gita are however common to both Shaivite, and Buddhist Tantras and Vaishnava Agamas.

Dattatreya traditions
Following are the various traditions of Dattatreya described in brief. Mainly the traditions are from Gujarath, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Considering the languagewise literature, they are from Gujarati, Marathi, Kannada and Telugu languages.[9]

Puranic tradition
The ancients 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 alias Bhargava. There is one more by name Saankruti, who is mentioned in Avadhutopanishad and Jabalopanishad.

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. There are two major traditions started by Shri Swami Samarth of Akkalkot and Shri Vasudevananda Saraswati alias Tembe Swami and are described in their respective articles.

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. The most famous disciple of Niranjan Raghunath is Narayan Maharaj Jalwankar. Narayan Maharaj mainly worked in Malva region. Sapta Sagar is one of his well known literature. Heritage continued with Shri Lakshman Maharaj. He was from Indore. Balbhim Maharaj Sadekar was his disciple. Balbhim Maharaj was an engineer living in Sadegaon. He called himself Gurupadicha veda i.e. Mad for Guru.

Shri Satguru Bhagirathinath Maharaj also hailed from Indore. She was born at Nashik in Kolhatkar family. She had attraction for god from early age. After Balbhim Maharaj, she faced strong opposition as people were not ready for a Woman Guru. She worked mainly for upliftment of ladies and poor needy people. She was master in Kirtanas. She wrote a drama Brahmatmabodh, a book Anandpadaver Chauda Chaukadyanche Rajya and many psams(Bhajans). Her disciples have migrated to England, America and Africa.She was constructed a big temple in Pune. The name of temple is Balbhim bhuvan.Bhalbhim is her loving and Kind Guru name.

Dattatreya Mahadev Cholkar was one of the blessed discliples of Bhagirathinath Maharaj. Although he was blind physically, he was very clever in his teaching methods. He wrote original Brahmatmabodh in poetic form. Bhagirathinath appreciated it, modified and rewritten it in simple text form. He written more than 4000 psams(unpublished). He was very good in kirtanas just like Bhagirathinath Maharaj.

Sri Dattatreya Mahadev Cholkar had constructed a huge temple in Yavatmal (Maharashatra). The name of Temple is Shri Bhagirathi Guru Mandir.Daily discourse and advait Kirtans and Programs conducted by Management of the Temple.'

Shri Satguru Samartha Madhurinath is also loving and studies disciple of Sri Dattatreya Mahadev Cholkar. She started preaching as Satguru in 1994. Being a professor by profession, she persuades uneducated as well as highly qualified people with equal ease. She demonstrates her disciples how to meditate with the divine and how to devote and serve the almighty in our daily routine life. Datta Bhagirathi Ogh, Biddhibodh, Bodhasaramrut, Mayavivaran and Shri Abhedbodh are her books written in marathi. Good Behaviour, a way to Universal Integrity is her admired book in English. Many knowledge seekers are benefitted from her even today. She lives in Gorai, Borivali which is in Mumbai and continues work of spreading awareness of almighty.

The philosophy of this tradition is mainly Bhagawat Dharma (religion), Sampradaya (sect) is attatreya and Marga (path) is Vihangam (Bird like).

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 as faith). 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 Shri Manik 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.[13]
[edit] Avadhut Panth tradition

The Avadhut panth or sect was started by Shri Pantmaharaj Balekundrikar of Balekundri near Belgaum. More information of the Avadhut philosophy and tradition is described in the article on avadhut. 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
Girnar is a famous place in the Datta-sampradaya and is situated in Saurashtra, 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. Gujarati books like Dattabavani and Gurulilamrut are quite famous. Dr. H. S. Joshi has written the book Origin and Development of Dattatreya Worship in India.

In Karnataka
The town of Ganagapur, where Dattatreya is said to have attained realization lies on the banks of River Bhima in Gulbarga district of North Karnataka.The following information is taken from the letters and articles written by late Shri Vishwanath Keshav Kulkarni-Hattarwatkar from Belgaum and one of the experts of Datta-tradition in Karnataka. Dattatreya tradition is quite rich in the adjacent states of Maharashtra. In fact the Gurucharitrakar Shri Saraswati Gangadhar was himself a Kannadiga. Other than him there have been numerous disciples and Dattatreya devotees from the northern part of Karnataka. Some famous names are Shridharswami, Narayanmaharaj from Kedgaon, SiddheshwaraMaharaj from Sadhoghat, Siddharudh Swami from Hubali et al.

Shripantamaharaj Balekundrikar has also written several Kannada poems on Dattatreya worship. Several places such as Borgaon, Chikodi, Kunnur, Sadalaga, Balekundri, Shahapur, Nipani, Hubali, Hangal, Dharwad etc have Dattatreya temples or some places have Narasimha temples who is also considered to be an incarnation of Dattatreya. In fact it appears that Shri Narasimha Saraswati and some of his disciples used to worship this form of Dattatreya.The Last Maharaja of Mysore, His Highness Sri.Jayachamaraja Wodeyar Bahadur has written a book,Dattatreya: The Way and the Goal in English. The book is written mainly to comment on Jeevanmuktageeta and Avadhutgeeta. The last chapter is A Critical Estimate of the Philosophy of Dattatreya where all the Dattatreya philosophy and work has been described in detail.

In Andhra Pradesh
The first avatara of Dattatreya, Shri Shripad Shrivallabha was from Pithapuram in Andhra Pradesh. As per the article by Prof. N. Venkatarao,[15] he describes several connections of Dattatreya tradition with those in Maharashtra. Maatapur or Mahur which is now located in Maharashtra was part of Telangana region in old days. The head of Mahur temple is called Dattatreya Yogi.

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 Vedantavyavaharsangraha into Telugu language. According Prof. R. C. Dhere, DattatreyaYogi and Das Gosavi are the original gurus in the Telugu Dattatreya tradition. Prof. Rao states that 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. His famous Vivekachintamani book was translated into Kannada by Nijashivagunayogi and Lingayat saint Shanatalingaswami translated this into Marathi. :

The Telugu Nath parampara is Dattatreya-> Janardan -> Eko Janardan -> Naraharimahesh -> Nagojiram -> Koneruguru -> Mahadevguru -> Parashurampantul Lingamurthy and Gurumurthy. Dattatreyayogi tradition is, Dattatreyayogi -> Paramanandateertha

* Sadanandayogi
o Challasuraya
o Ishwar Panibhatt
* Dhenukonda Timayya
o Mallan
+ Chintalingaguru
+ Yogananda
+ Timmaguru
+ Rambrahmendra
+ Kumbhampati Narappa

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