Dattatreya or Datta is a Hindu deity encompassing the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, collectively known as Trimurti. The name Dattatreya can be divided into two words - "Datta" (meaning given) and "Atreya" referring to the sage Atri, his physical father.
Various Hindu sects worship him differently. In the Nath tradition, Dattatreya is recognized as an Avatar or incarnation of 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, 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. Dattatreya is credited as the author of the Tripura Rahasya given to Parasurama, a treatise on Advaita Vedanta.
Dattatreya was born to the sage Atri, who had been promised by Parameshvara (the Almighty), that He, Parameshvara, would be incarnated as his son. Since Parameshvara subsumes all three members of the trimurti, Dattatreya is at once the incarnation of Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma. This is just one of the many legends related to the birth of Lord Dattatreya. In some he is not Atri's son, but Atri's descendent.
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 town, now known as Ganagapura in 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 Dattatreya meditating on Gandhamadana mountain.
As an avatar
In The Pathless Path to Immortality, Shri Gurudev 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.
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 Avatar of Shiva.
Guru Gobind Singh writes in the Dasam Granth that Dattatreya(Datt Muni, Datt Dev etc.) was an incarnation of Rudra (The Supreme Power). He has written the whole story of Dattatreya life.
The appearance of Shri Dattatreya in pictures varies according to traditional beliefs. The most commonly trusted form is the one described as below
मालाकमंडलुरधः करपद्मयुग्मे, मध्यस्थ पाणियुगुले डमरूत्रिशूले
यस्यस्त उर्ध्वकरयोः शुभशंखचक्रे वंदे तमत्रिवरदं भुजषटकयुक्तम
(I bow to the son of Atri, who has six hands and whose lowest two hands have maalaa and kamandalu, middle couple of hands hold damaru and trishool and top two hands have holy Shankh and Chakra) Other depictions, however, show other weapons like 'Gada' in the hands of Dattatreya some times.
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.
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...
There is other symbolism attachable here. Dogs also held the cultural significance of 'dog eaters' (Sanskrit: candala) those who existed beyond the confines of Varnashrama Dharma. Dogs are both wild and tame, and symbols of fidelity and devotion (Sanskrit: bhakti).
Dattatreya is one of the oldest deities. The first reference of this deity is found in epics like Mahabharata 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.
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 defined to the form of Dattatreya. The three heads have come definitely later in the last 900 years or so.
Dattatreya incarnation of the Divine Trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Siva and his avatars- Shripad Shri Vallabha, Sri Nrusimha Saraswati and Swami Samarth Maharaj.
According to the book "Shridattareya Shodashavatar Charitanee" by Shri Vasudevananda Saraswati, Dattatreya is supposed to have taken 16 Avatars. The names and their birthdate (as per the Lunar calendar) are given in brackets.
Yogiraaj (Kaartik Shu.15)
Atrivarad (Kaartik Kru.1)
Dattatreya (Kaartik Kru.2)
Kaalaagnishaman (Maargashirsha Shu.14)
Yogijanvallabh (Maargashirsha Shu.15)
Lilaavishambhar (Paush Shu.15)
Siddharaaj (Maagh Shu.15)
Dnyaasaagar (Faalgun Shu.10)
Vishambhar (Chaitra Shu.15)
Maayaamukta (Vaishaakh Shu.15)
Maayaamukta (Jyeshtha Shu.13)
Aadiguru (Aashaadh Shu.15)
Shivarup (Shraavan Shu.8)
Devdev (Bhaadrapad Shu.14)
Digambar (Aashwin Shu.15)
Krishnashyaamkamalnayan (Kaartik Shu.12)
In the Dasopanta tradition, all 16 are worshiped and Dasopanta is considered as the 17th avatara.
In the Datta Sampradaya the first avatar is Shripad Shri Vallabh and the second is Narasimha Saraswati. Akkalkot Swami Samarth, Shri Vasudevanand Saraswati (Tembe Swami, Sawantwadi)) Manik Prabhu, Krishna Saraswati, Shirdi Sai Baba (Shirdi, Maharashtra), Gajanan Maharaj (Shegaon) and Pujya Sri Ganapathi Sachchidananda Swamiji are also considered as avatars of Dattatreya.
The Upanishads Avadhutopanishad and Jaabaaldarshanopanishad mention that this philosophy was put forward by Dattatreya.
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." 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.
Following are the various traditions of Dattatreya described in brief. The traditions are mainly from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, and were first written in Gujarati, Marathi, Kannada and Telugu.
The ancient disciples of Dattatreya have been described above. Among these, Karatavirya Sahasrajun is often seen as his favourite. The other ones are, traditionally, 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 the name of Saankruti, who is mentioned in the Avadhutopanishad and Jabalopanishad.
Mahanubhav Panth, propagated by Sri Chakradhar Swami, considers Dattatreya to be their Adi Guru (the original Guru). Sri Chakradhar Swami disclosed to His disciples that Dattatreya, like Him, was an incarnation of supreme lord, parmeshwar. They worship Dattatreya as single headed with two arms. According to their belief, his avatar is chaturyugi i.e., It remains in all four yugas, viz. Satyug, Tretayug, Dwaparyug, Kaliyug. He still wanders in different bodies, like those of an avadhut, baagh (tiger), hunter, or sage. Srimad Bhagwatam's tenth volume mentions Dattatreya's discourse as given to king Yadu in the tretayug. On seeing Dattatreya disguised in avadhut form, king Yadu got instantly attracted towards Him and begged to bestow him with secrets to attain Moksha. Dattatreya Prabhu gave him Brahmjnaan and went away into the wilderness. The same was shared by Krishna with prince Uddhav in dwaparyug and is scripted in tenth volume of Srimad Bhagwatam. This story is associated with the origin of the nam, Uddhav Geeta given by the Mahanubhav followers. Even today, many followers visit places in Maharashtra where Sri Dattatreya is believed to have gone. Sri Datt jayanti usually falls in December and that is time of the year Maharashtra attracts many disciples.
Shri Gurucharitra tradition
This tradition follows from Shripad Shrivallabha and Shri Narasimha Saraswati. Several very famous Datta-avatars are from this tradition. Such traditionally include Shri Janardanswami, Eknath, Dasopant, Niranjan Raghunath, Narayan Maharaj Jalwankar, Manik Prabhu, Swami Samarth, Sai Baba of Shirdi, Gajanan Maharaj of Shegoan, 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.
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.
Avadhut Panth tradition
The Avadhut panth or sect was started by Shri Pantmaharaj Balekundrikar of Balekundri near Belgaum. More information on 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 ('Panta-brothers'). This sampradaya is spread across Balekundri, Daddi, Belgaum, Akol, Kochari, Nerali, Dharwad, Gokak, Hubali.
Ek Mukhi Dattatreya Temple at Vengurla is very old Lord Dattatreya Temple, which is almost 800 years old. This Temple is located near Vengurla Town. The Idol of this Temple was brought from Narsimavadi from the relatives of Gavaskar(Sunil Gavaskar). The Idol is very beautiful.
One headed with Four Hands Dattatreya another Ancient temple situated at Kolhapur City. This Temple is in the Premises of Lord Vithhala Temple near Mirajkar Tikatti. In Nashik at Talegaon (Anjeneri) Pujya Bhaumaharaj Swarge did his Gurumaharajs Rangavdhoot (Nareshwer) holy task of spreading messeage of paraspro dev bhavo & swase swase dattanamsmaratman all over Maharashtra.
Ek Mukhi Datta of Narayanpur Pune is also famous temple in Pune region. Narayanpur is situated at the bottom of famous Purandar fort. Narayanpur is the village of Sant Changdev. It is also famous for Lord Datta's Temple. This temple is popular amongst the pilgrims and many people visit and pray during the season. A tree of "Audumbar" here is very old and is worshiped by pilgrims. There is also an old temple of Narayaneshwar. This temple and 3 sculptures in the temple are very pretty. These sculptures are said to be of 'Yadav' era. Narayanpur must be seen by both - the pilgrims as well as the nature lovers - because of 2 temples "Lord Datta" and "Narayaneshwar" and the beauty of the Purandar valley.
Shri Vamanbua Vaidya from Baroda is from the tradition of Shri Kalavit Swami. His philosophical tradition has been 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 or Shri Rang Avadhut.
Maharshi Punitachariji Maharaj is a devotee of Bhagvan Dattatreya who resides in Gujarat at the Girnar Sadhana Ashram, Junadadh. He claims to have experienced a divine vision of Bhagvan Dattatreya on 15 November 1975. He recommends spontaneous meditation (sahaj dhyan) and the mantra 'Hari om tatsat jai gurudatta' to his followers, the latter purportedly given by Bhagvan Dattatreya.
Gujarati bhajans like Dattabavani and book Gurulilamrutwritten by Rang Avadhoot maharaaj at Nareshwar on Narmada are quite famous. Dr. H. S. Joshi has written the book Origin and Development of Dattatreya Worship in India.
In M.P and all western India PP Nana Maharaj Taranekar ji Indore who was a grihastha.a house holder Enlightened soul.He spread the message of Dutta s message useful to common man and family needs in these parts of India and abroad.The 'Karuna Tripadee' mandals all around reinforce the need for daily prayers of Dutta's message to all.
Shri Dattpith Sansthan Pathri
There is a beautiful temple of lord dattatraya, amidst the serene and quiet natural surroundings of vanki river, at the village pathari, 7km from valsad city (dist valsad) Gujarat, and 3 km from dharampur road highway.
Param pujya ansuyamataji hailing from maharastrian Brahmin family, along with her son and disciple gurudas swamiji walked the whole of India twice. They did “shri datt upasana” in the junjles for many years. Lord dattatraya gave them darshan on being pleased with their “bhakti” and showed them this place and told them to build datt pith and to settle there.
This datt pith lies on 7 acre land near vanki river. It is called the “vishram sthala” as it is 700 km from siddhkshetra gangapur and 700 km from pathri to girnar (datt prabhu’s paduka). The inauguration and pran prathistha of the temple was done by the shankracharya of karvir peeth and the yagna was performed by the vidvan Brahmins of gangapur.
In Andhra Pradesh
The first avatara of Dattatreya, Shri Shripad Shrivallabha was from Pithapuram in Andhra Pradesh. According to article by Prof. N. Venkatarao there are several connections of the Dattatreya tradition with others in Maharashtra. For example, Maatapur, or Mahur, which is now located in Maharashtra, was once part of the Telangana region. 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.