Datta Jayanti is a celebration of the birth of Shri Datta. Shri Datta was born in the evening of the full moon day (paurnima) of the Hindu lunar month of Margshirsh. Hence this day is celebrated as Shri Datta's birthday.
In ancient times there was a very austere rishi called Atri. He was believed to be the mental son of Brahmadev, because he had been born from the splendour of Brahmadev's eyes. His wife's name was Anasuya, who was a model of conjugal fidelity.
In heaven Naradmuni used to tell the gods very interesting stories about Anasuya's fidelity to her husband. This provoked the jealousy of Sarasvati, Laxmi, and Parvati, who decided to lower Anasuya's reputation. They sent Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh (Shankar or Shiva) to earth for the purpose of bringing about her disgrace.
Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh became three guests, and seeing that Atri was not in his house, they knocked at the door. Anasuya at once welcomed the guests. She got food ready for them and requested them to have a meal. Then they said that they would eat only on one condition. The strange condition was that Anasuya should serve them the food without any clothes on.
The Three Babies Anasuya was dumbfounded. But in a trice she thought of a solution, and by the power of her mind she turned the three guests into small babies. The babies began to cry. She kept them in a cradle and with great love she began to rock them.There was a commotion in heaven. The three wives of the gods. Sarasvati, Laxmi and Parvati became distressed. "If the three great gods become small babies, who will take the responsibility of the universe?"
Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh were sorry and asked for Anasuya's forgiveness. The form of three babies kept a particle of their being in the house of that faithful wife and they returned to heaven.
Anasuya named the three babies, Som, Datta, and Durvas. When they grew up Som went to the moon, and Durvas went to the jungle to do penance. Before leaving both of them kept their particle of being with Datta. Thus Datta became the combined avatar of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. Dattatreya Datta being the mental son of Anasuya, he was also the mental son of Atri, and therefore his name became Dattatreya.
Dattatreya learned the Vedas and then began to teach them. Anasuya wanted him to get married. But Dattatreya was pleased with the celibate state. So after instructing her on Brahmavidya (doctrine of Brahma) he obtained her permission and left home. Dattatreya's Avatars Shri Guru Dattatreya is believed to have had many avatars. Among them Shripad Shrivallabh is well known. The following story is found in the book "Shriguru Charitra".
Apalraja and his wife Sumati led a virtuous life in Pithapur, a village in South India. It was the day dedicated to the departed ancestors. Apalraja had gone out to call the brahmins, and Sumati was busy preparing the dinner. Then outside someone stood asking for food. She went out in a hurry and found before her a resplendent figure. Abundant matted hair on his head. A "kamandalu" (a special receptacle used for begging food), in one hand. The other hand raised in benediction, and a pair of "khadava" as footwear (wooden chappals). Then as she was looking at him the figure of Dattatreya himself appeared in that man. The "damaru" and the "trisul" were embellishing his hands. It was a living idol with three faces and six hands.
Sumati fell down in adoration and said, "Welcome, Maharaj! What is your command?""Mother," said the divine visitor, "will you, please, give me some food to satisfy my hunger?"
"Surely, Maharaj," said Sumati. "The dinner is ready." In no time Sumati began to serve her unexpected guest. At the end of the meal the guest in gratitude said, "Mother, what is your desire? Ask whatever you wish."
In Apalraja's house there was great tranquillity. But it looked empty because the couple had no children. The two children they had got after many vows and novenas were both weak and handicapped. So after hesitating Sumati said, "Since you are insisting, please, make the word with which you have addressed me become true. Grant me to be truly your mother." The guest smiled and immediately granted the request.
"Tathastu", "Amen". "It will be as you said." "But remember that the son that will be born from you will be all his life a great ascetic. For the salvation of the people he will have to go away from you. Do not be an obstacle to his vocation."After this the man disappeared but Sumati remained for a long time lost in the contemplation of Shri Dattatreya. At the end her husband Apalraja came back.
"When did you come?" she asked feeling embarrassed. "Just now," said Apalraja. "But why this splendour on your face?" he asked.
Shripad After hearing the whole description of the apparition and grace given by Shri Datta, Apalraja was extremely happy. In due time Sumati gave birth to a son who was given the name "Shripad". Shripad began to grow to the complete happiness of his father and mother. At the age of seven the "munj" ceremony took place. Then he studied the scriptures and the 18 Puranas were his delight. He was in no need of learning them from anyone. His parents were convinced that that could only be a sign of a divine avatar.
When the age of marriage came Sumati and Apalraja proposed the question to Shripad. But Shripad replied. "Mother, I am a life -long brahmachari. To me all women of the world are like you."
"Besides," Shripad went on, "you surely remember the words spoken at the time of my coming into this world, that for the salvation of men I must go away from you. Remembering the words of Datta guru Apalraja controlled his feelings and tried to console his wife. Sumati with tears flowing from her eyes said, "Son, you are our only support. Your two brothers, blind and handicapped, are as if they did not exist. To whom shall we look after you are gone?"
"Mother," said Shripad, "don't worry at all. How can the sons of my mother remain like this?"
Shripad took his parents to the place where the two handicapped children were rolling about. He looked at them with his life-giving eyes, sprinkled them with holy water. With the grace of Shri Datta those two stupid wretched creatures became great intelligent pundits, and with the newly acquired divinity with their resplendent bodies they came close and worshipped the three of them.
Father and mother seeing the miracle began to cry of happiness. Then after giving them full satisfaction, Shripad left towards the North for the work for which he had taken birth and took the name of Shripad Shrivallabh, for which he became famous in the world. He went from place to place liberating thousands of people from sorrow and taking them to the path of devotion. Finally he came to dwell in Kuravpur on the banks of the river Krishna.
The Widow's Despair One day Shripad was taking bath in the river. He saw at some distance a brahmin widow who was about to commit suicide with her son. He called her and asked, "Why are you throwing into the water this precious body which God has given you? If I know the cause of your sorrow I shall try to help you."The poor widow replied, "Maharaj! do not come in our way. It is no longer possible for me to live with this unintelligent child."
Then the people who had gathered on that spot, told the swami the whole story of that unfortunate family. The widow's name was Ambika. Her husband had been a very learned brahmin. But their son had remained mentally retarded. So they became poor and felt dishonoured.
After hearing this Shripadraja told Ambika, "Don't feel sorry. Tell me, what is your desire?"
"What can my desire be? Maharaj, I wish I had a bright son like you. But since this is not possible in this present life, I am now leaving this world. Whatever you can give us, please, give it in the next birth. Now let us go our way," the woman said.
"Why should it be so?" the swami said. "Your desire of a son will definitely be fulfilled in the next life. But the body of this present life you must not destroy. The main reason why you want to end your life is your son's lack of intelligence, isn't it? By the will of God this cause of your sorrow will be destroyed. Don't worry at all."
Then swami gave Ambika this advice, "For the rest of your life keep always the "Pradesh" vow (observance in honour of Shiva to be kept on the evening of the 13th lunar day). In this way god Shankar will be pleased on you. And I too give you my blessing. By keeping this vow you will have a son like me in your next birth."
Then the swami called the boy and with great tenderness told him, "Come, my child, don't get disgusted with life. Everything occurs according to the merits or demerits accumulated before. But your bad luck is now ended. Come nearer and sit down."
Then placing his bountiful hand on the child's head, immediately he bestowed on him all the knowledge of wisdom. The boy in gratitude put his head on the feet of the swami. Then giving his blessing the swami said, "Now, Ambika, go home and be happy."
In this way removing people's sorrow and leading them by the right path, Shridatta finished the work for which he had taken avatar as Shrivallabh. Then Shripad disappeared in the forest of Kardali. But he is believed to have made his permanent abode in an invisible way in Kuravpur for the sake of his devotees.