Dattatreya (Sanskrit: दत्तात्रेय) is a Hindu God who is an
incarnation of the Divine Trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Siva. 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".Dattatreya is also referred by the name Avdhoot or
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. Although
Dattatreya was at first a "Lord of Yoga" exhibiting distinctly
Tantric traits, he was adapted and assimilated into the more
devotional cults; while still worshipped by millions of Hindus, he
is approached more as a benevolent God than as a teacher of the
highest essence of Indian thought.
Dattatreya as an Historical
Though the Dattatreya of the Natha tradition coexisted
and intermingled with the Puranic, Brahmanical tradition of the
Datta sampradaya, here we shall focus almost exclusively on the
earlier Tantric manifestation of Datta. Shri Gurudev Mahendranath
had no doubt that Dattatreya was an historical figure. He stated
that Datta was born on Wednesday, the fourteenth day of the full
moon in the month of Margasirsa, though he does not mention the
Dattatreya incarnation of the Divine Trinity Brahma, Vishnu
Dattatreya incarnation of the Divine Trinity Brahma,
Vishnu and Siva.
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 Mysore,
through the Maharashtra, and into Gujarat as far as the Narmada
River. He attained realization at a place not far from the town now
known as Ganagapur. The original footprints of Datta are believed
to be located on the lonely peak at Mount Girnar. The
Tripura-rahasya refers to the disciple Parasurama finding Datta
meditating on Gandhamadana mountain.
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.
Another work, the
Avadhuta Gita (Song of the Free) is a wonderful, compete
compilation of the highest thought given to and recorded by two of
Dattatreya's 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.
Purana reports that Dattatreya, to free himself of all attachments,
dove into a lake where he stayed for many years. By doing so, he
also hoped to evade an assembly of Munis who remained on the banks
of the lake awaiting his return. Datta emerged from the water naked
in the company of a beautiful woman. The text relates that he made
love with her (maithuna), drank liquor, and enjoyed singing and
music. In spite of this, the Munis did not abandon him, and
Dattatraya, accompanied by his shakti, continued to engage in these
practices and was meditated on by those longing for moksha.
the Bhagavata Purana Dattatreya enumerates a list of his
twenty-four gurus: earth, air, sky / 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 image of the Natha ranged from that of a
siddha living in the woods with animals, to that of a frightening,
even demonic, being.
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
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.
Dattatreya as a Devotional
Dattatreya is usually depicted with three heads,
symbolising Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; past, present, and future;
and the three states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, and
dreamless sleep. He is portrayed sitting in meditation with his
shakti beneath the audumbara (wish-fulfilling) tree. In front of
him is a fire pit, and around him are four dogs. These are
sometimes said to symbolise the four Vedas.