|Affiliation Avatar of Lord Vishnu/Trimurti|
Abode Varies per interpretation
Artifacts Shankha, chakra, Trishula, Damaru
Dattatreya (IAST: Dattātreya, Sanskrit: दत्तात्रेय) or Dattā is a paradigmatic Sannyasi (monk) and one of the lords of Yoga in Hinduism. In many regions of India and Nepal, he is considered a deity. In Maharashtra, he is a syncretistic deity, considered to be an avatar (incarnation) of the three Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, collectively known as Trimurti. In other regions, and some versions of texts such as the Garuda Purana, Brahma Purana and Sattvata Samhita, he is an avatar of Vishnu.
- Self education the 24 Gurus of Dattatreya
- Alternate iconography
- Pancaratra texts
- Avadhuta Gita
- Dattatreya traditions
His iconography varies regionally. In western Maharashtra, for example, he is typically shown with three heads and six hands, one head each for Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and one pair of hand holding the symbolic items associated with each of these gods: rosary and water pot of Brahma, conch and wheel of Visnu, trident and drum of Shiva. He is typically dressed as a simple monk or almost naked, situated in a forest or wilderness suggestive of his renunciation of worldly goods and pursuit of a meditative yogi lifestyle. In paintings and some large carvings, he is surrounded by four dogs and a cow, which is a symbolism for the four Vedas and mother earth that nourishes all living beings. In the temples of southern Maharashtra, Varanasi and in the Himalayas, his iconography shows him with one head and two hands with four dogs and a cow.
In the Nath tradition of Shaivism, Dattatreya is revered as the Adi-Guru (First Teacher) of the Adinath Sampradaya of the Nathas, the first "Lord of Yoga" with mastery of Tantra (techniques). His pursuit of simple life, kindness to all, sharing of his knowledge and the meaning of life during his travels is reverentially mentioned in the poems by Tukaram, a saint-poet of the Bhakti movement. Over time, Dattatreya has inspired many monastic movements in Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism, particularly in the Deccan region of India, south India, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Himalayan regions where Shiva tradition has been strong.
Several Upanishads are dedicated to him, as are texts of the Advaita Vedanta-Yoga tradition in Hinduism. One of the most important texts of Advaita Vedanta, namely Avadhuta Gita (literally, "song of the free") is attributed to Dattatreya. In Maharashtra, an annual festival in the Hindu calendar month of Mārgaśīrṣa (November/December) reveres Dattatreya and this is called Datta Jayanti.
The mythologies of Dattatreya are diverse and vary by region. In the Puranas, he was born in north Indian hermitage to Anusuya and her husband the Vedic sage Atri traditionally credited with making the largest contribution to the Rigveda. Another states his father lived in southern India, in the western Deccan region. A third claims he was born in Kashmir jungles near the sacred Amarnath. A fourth legend states he was born along his brothers were Durvasas and Chandra, to an unwed mother named Anusuya, after sage Atri saw her bathing, fantasized about her which caused her to become pregnant. In a fifth myth, sage Atri was very old when young Anusuya married him, and they sought the help of the trimurti gods for a child. The trinity were pleased with them for having brought light and knowledge to the world, simultaneously granted the boon, which led Dattatreya to be born with characteristics of all three.
While his origins are unclear and trace to inconsistent mythologies, stories about his life are more consistent. He is described in the Mahabharata as an exceptional Rishi (sage) with extraordinary insights and knowledge, who is adored and raised to a Guru and an Avatar of Vishnu in the Puranas. Dattatreya is stated in these texts to having renounced the world and leaving his home at an early age to lead a monastic life. One myth claims he meditated immersed in water for a long time, another has him wandering from childhood and the young Dattatreya footprints have been preserved on a lonely peak at Girnar (Junagadh, Gujarat). The Tripura-rahasya refers to the disciple Parasurama finding Dattatreya meditating on Gandhamadana mountain.
Self-education: the 24 Gurus of Dattatreya
The young Dattatreya is famous in the Hindu texts as the one who started with nothing and without teachers, yet reached self-awareness by observing nature during his Sannyasi wanderings, and treating these natural observations as his twenty four teachers. This legend has been emblematic in the Hindu belief, particularly among artists and Yogis, that ideas, teachings and practices come from all sources, that self effort is a means to learning. The 24 teachers of Dattatreya are:
The appearance of Shri Dattatreya in pictures varies according to traditional beliefs. A typical icon for Dattatreya, particularly popular with Marathi-speaking people in India, has three heads corresponding to Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, and six hands; the lowest two hands carry rosary (mala) and water pot (kamandalu), middle pair of hands hold hourglass mini-drum (damaru) and trident (trishul), and top two hands have conch (shankh) and spinning wheel (chakra).
Many older medieval temples of Dattatreya show him with just one head, such as the one in Mahur and another in Pandharpur, both in southern Maharashtra. Texts such as Agni Purana describe the architectural features for building murti, and for Dattatreya, it recommends him with one head and two hands. In Varanasi, Nepal, north Himalayan foothill states of India, 15th-century Nath temples of Dattatreya show him with just one face. In western parts of Maharashtra, the syncretic six armed and three faced iconography is more common.
He is the motif of the '"honey bee" Yogin who has realized advaita knowledge. Dattatreya as the archetypal model of syncretism:
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.
Another distinctive aspect of Dattatreya iconography is that it includes four dogs and a cow. The four dogs represent the Vedas, as trustworthy all weather friends, company and guardians, while the cow is a metaphor for mother earth who silently and always provides nourishment.
Dattatreya's sculptures with alternate iconography have been identified in 1st millennium CE cave temples and archaeological sites related to Hinduism. For example, in the Badami temple (Karnataka), Dattatreya is shown to be with single head and four hands like Vishnu, but seated in a serene Yoga posture (padmasana). Carved with him are the emblems (lañchana) of the Trimurti, namely the swan of Brahma, the Garuda of Vishnu and the Nandi of Shiva. The right earlobe jewelry and hair decoration in this art work of Dattatreya is of Shiva, but on his left the details are those of Vishnu. Rigopoulos dates this Badami sculpture to be from the 10th to 12th century.
A sculpture similar to Badami, but with some differences, has been discovered in Ajmer (Rajasthan). The Ajmer art work is a free statue where Dattatreya is standing, has one head and four hands. In his various hands, he carries a Trishula of Shiva, a Chakra of Vishnu, a Kamandalu of Brahma, and a rosary common to all three. Like the Badami relief work, the Ajmer iconography of Dattatreya shows the swan of Brahma, the Garuda of Vishnu and the Nandi of Shiva carved on the pedestal with him.
Some scholars such as James Harle and TA Gopinatha Rao consider iconography that presents Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva together as Hari Hara Pitamaha to be synonymous with or equivalent to Dattatreya. Antonio Rigopoulos questions this identification, and suggests that Harihara Pitamaha iconography may have been a prelude to and something that evolved into Dattatreya iconography.
The historic Indian literature has interpreted the representation of Dattatreya symbolically. His three heads are symbols of the Gunas (qualities in Samkhya school of Hinduism). The three Gunas are Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. The six hands have ethical symbolism, namely Yamas, Niyama, Sama, Dama, Daya and Shanti (axiology in Yoga and Vedanta school of Hinduism).
The Kamadhenu cow is symbolic Panchabutas, the four dogs are inner forces of a human being: Iccha, Vasana, Asha and Trishna. In these interpretations, Dattatreya is that yogi Guru (teacher) who has perfected all these, rules them rather than is ruled by them, and is thus the Guru Dattatreya is beyond them.
The Dattatreya Upanishad (tantra-focussed), Darshana Upanishad (yoga-focussed) and particularly the Avadhuta Upanishad (advaita-focussed) present the philosophy of the Dattatreya tradition. Dattatreya is also mentioned in the classic text on Yoga, the Shandilya Upanishad.
Other Upanishads where Dattatreya's name appears in lists of ancient Hindu monks revered for their insights on renunciation are Jabala Upanishad, Naradaparivrajaka Upanishad, Bhikshuka Upanishad and Yajnavalkya Upanishad. Of these, his mention in the Jabala Upanishad is chronologically significant because this ancient text is dated to have been complete between 3rd-century BCE and 3rd-century CE.
Dattatreya is mentioned in the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
Dattatreya is mentioned in the ancient chapter 9 of the Sattvata Samhita and chapter 5 of the Ahirbudhnya Samhita, both among the oldest layer of texts in the Vaishnava Agama tradition (Pancaratra). Schrader states these texts and the chronology of Dattatreya are older than the Mahabharata, but Rigopoulos disagrees with him on the chronology.
In the Hindu tradition, Dattatreya is the author of Avadhuta Gita, or the "Song of the free". The text's poetry is based on the principles of Advaita Vedanta, one of the subschools of Hindu philosophy.
The extant manuscripts have been dated to approximately the 9th or 10th century, but it may have existed earlier as part of an oral tradition. It consists of 289 shlokas (metered verses), divided into eight chapters.
Several Hindu monastic and yoga traditions are linked to Dattatreya:
Numerous Datta temples exists in Maharashtra. Mahur [Distric -Nanded]. Ek Mukhi Datta of Narayanpur features Dattatreya. There is a temple of Lord Dattatreya in Devgad (deogad) of Ahmednagar district.
There is a temple of lord Dattatreya, amidst the serene and quiet natural surroundings of Vanki river, at the village Pathari, 7 km from Valsad city (dist valsad) Gujarat, and 3 km from the Dharampur road highway.
Other temples of Dattatreya include:
- Sri Kalagnishamana Datta - Mysuru, Karnataka
- Sri Yogiraja Vallabha Datta - Prodduturu, Andhra Pradesh
- Sri Yogiraja Vallabha Datta - Bangalore, Karnataka
- Sri Gnana Sagara Datta - Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh
- Sri Syama Kamala Lochana Datta - Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh
- Sri Atrivarada Datta - Machalipattanam, Andhra Pradesh
- Sri Sivaroopa Datta - Jayalakshmipuram, Andhra Pradesh
- Sri Jagadguru Datta - Guntur, Andhra Pradesh
- Sri Adiguru Datta - Chennai, Tamil Nadu
- Sri Digambara Datta - Rishikesh, Uttarakand
- Sri Viswambara Avadhoota Datta - Akiveedu, Andhra Pradesh
- Sri Deva Deva Datta - Nuzivedu, Andhra Pradesh
- Sri Avadhoota Datta - Hyderabad, Telangana
- Sri Digambara Datta - Gandigunta, Andhra Pradesh
- Sri Siddaraja datta - Cochin, Kerala
- Sri Mayamukta Avadhoota Datta - Acharapakkam, Tamil Nadu
- Sri Leela Viswambarava Datta - Surat, Gujrat
- Sri Kshetra Narada Gadde - Raichur, Karnataka