Dattatreya in Recent Living Memory

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Yogi Rambau-swami is dedicated to the worship of Lord Dattatreya.He is an upasaka of Uchishta Maha Ganapthi...

Yogi Rambau-swami is dedicated to the worship of Lord Dattatreya.He is an upasaka of Uchishta Maha Ganapthi. This 71-year-old yogi, stopped drinking more than a few drops of water each day, since 1975 ; and two years later he began limiting his daily diet to a banana and a cup of milk, and his sleep to just three hours each night.

He has been visiting Datta kshtera at Ganagapur for the past several years and arranges Annadanam (free food for all) and does anga-pradakshinam - rolling on the leftovers of the plantain leaves discarded by the common people after eating. This is a mark of utter humility and oneness with everyone

Yogi Rambau-swami Says :

anagapur is a Dattatherya kshetram that has the Paduka (foot prints) of the ascetic Narasimha Saraswathy Swami (an avatara of Lord Datta) imprinted on stone. This Saint lives here eternally, and devotees who bathe in the Sangam of two rivers here, and bow to his foot prints , are blessed by him. This sacred place is a Karma bhumi (place of expiation). All those suffering from the wrong acts of their past lives get relief by the grace of Dattatreya who was a "People's Yogi". The Uttaravahini flow (current that flows northwards) of the holy Bhima - meets the Amaraja river.This Sangam (confluence of the two rivers) is a Tirtha that sanctifies all believers and rids them of problems incurred by their sin committed in past lives.

It is my dream and wish that charitable people who care to do public good should take the initiative and help the Karnataka government to build a good road from Gulbarga to Ganagapur. This will help common pilgrims- especially the old and frail people - who desire to cure their physical and mental problems by coming to this unique shrine.

Datttreya incarnation is mentioned as one of the most potent of the Lord's manifestations on earth by Kanchi Maha Svamigal in his Deivatthin kural - Part 7.

Dattatreya in Recent Living Memory

At Ganagapur on the banks of the river Bhima in Gulbarga district (North Karnataka) is a shrine that marks the place where Dattatreya attained Siddhi (Fulfillment). He is a chiranjivi (immortal) who is always present with us in this world. The Adinatha sampradaya devotees worship him as Siva. There is a Datta guha (cave) in the Himalayas. There are many Datta pithas (shrines) in Karnataka and in a few temples he is fused with the image of Narasimha. In Gujarat on the Girnar hill there is a shrine of Datta and his foot prints are imbedded in the stone here. Datta wandered as a digambara (wearing no clothes) in Maharashtra , Gujarat and North Karnataka.

The saint Sripaada Sri Vallabh was born in a Brahmin family in the village Pithapur (East Godavari District in Andhra)). A Brahmin couple Appala Raju Sharma and Sumathi, were devotees of Lord Datta. They had many children of whom only two survived. One was lame and the other was blind. They worshipped Lord Datta and never failed to offer food to mendicants and monks. They looked upon all such as the very forms of Lord Datta. One day, they were performing the annual ceremony in their house and many Brahmins were invited as guests for the feast. Tradition holds that none should eat on that day before the invited Brahmins eat.

At that time Lord Datta appeared at their threshold in the form of a renunciate sadhu (saint), bearing the staff and the water-vessel (Kamandalu) and asked for food. The housewife, with immense faith that the visitor was none other than the Lord, gave him food even before the Brahmin guests were fed! Her faith touched the Lord's heart and he granted her a vision of this true form. His glorious form had three heads, was clad in a tiger's skin. With his body besmeared with sacred ash (vibhuti), he looked like a silver mountain in moonlight. The housewife felt that the highest object of her birth was fulfilled. The Lord said, "Mother, I am pleased with your devotion. Even before you fed the Brahmin guests, you have given me food with the full faith that this is the Lord in the guise of a holy mendicant. Ask me for anything you wish and it shall be granted". "Lord", she said, "You addressed me as mother, please let your word be turned into reality". Lord replied Tathastu (so be it) and disappeared. Lord Datttreya in order to bless the virtuous, wanders about in the guise of a random guest at lunch hour. That's why it is said that a random guest has to be treated as the very embodiment of Lord Dattatreya.

Not long after, Sumathi conceived and delivered a male child at the proper time. As the child has all the divine features with celestial radiance, he was named as Sripaad. This was the first incarnation of Lord Dattatreya.

At the age of 8, he was invested wiith the sacred thread. Normally, after the sacred thread ceremony a boy has to be trained by a Guru for 8 years before he can memorize the Vedas completely. But Sripaad absorbed vedic knowledge instantaneously from the moment of his upanayana (sacred thread ceremony).

When Sripaad attained marriageable age, he declared "All women in this world are like my mother. I am married to sannyaasa (renunciation). My mission is to give initiation and guidance to seekers." He sought permission from his parents to become a sannyasi and to leave the house. The parents were dismayed. Their other two children were dumb, deaf and blind. If Sripad left his parents, who will look after them in their old age. Sripaad understood their anxiety. Sripaad touched his brothers and made them whole in a moment!

He renounced all worldly ties and trekked to several Holy places like Dwaraka, Brindavan, Mathura, and Badrinath. Then he came down to the holy Gokarna to bless spiritual seekers. Sripaad lived for three years in Gokarna. Having uplifted several seekers there spiritually, he went to Kurvapur and settled down there.

One day, a widow, Ambika, came to the river to end her life due to her unbearable poverty and to run away from the world which made fun of her for having given birth to an idiot boy. Miraculously Sripaad came there and said 'do not be hasty; and incur the sin of committing suicide. It is better for you to live on, facing any amount of suffering.' The Brahmin lady then said, 'Oh holy one, people are humiliating me for being cursed with the birth of a stupid son." Moved by compassion, he said, 'Mother, by committing suicide, you only add to your former sins and you will have to suffer more in the next life. Therefore, devote your whole life to the worship of Lord Shiva. You shall be blessed with a noble son in your next life'.

Sripaad Vallabha disappeared one day after entering the Ganges river. Then Guru Sripaad was reincarnated again as Sri Narasimha Saraswati when he was born to this lady in her subsequent birth. Amba was married to a pious man called Madhava Sharma. In course of time, she gave birth to a son.The child did not cry, as usual, at birth.On the other hand, the only sound he uttered was 'AUM' and everyone was amazed at it. Astrologers assured Madhava Sharma that their child was indeed an avatar of the Lord. They also prophesied that he would renounce all worldly ties and that he would uplift fallen souls. The child was named Narahari.

As a boy of five, he could not speak and the parents were worried.

One day, the boy conveyed to them through gestures that he wished to be invested with the sacred thread. Young Narahari learned the 'Gayatri Mantra', adopted the vows of a young celibate , accepted the first offering of food from his mother's hands. He at once recited the Vedas. The parents were overjoyed but their joy did not last. According to tradition after the sacred thread ceremony, the initiate is a sannyasi and has to beg alms from his mother and leave for pilgrimage. Thus, the mother asked him to beg alms and young Narahari, taking it as her adesha (command) sought permission to take sannyasa, renounce worldly life and leave for pilgrimage.

The mother pleaded with him to give up such an idea. Narhari said "I do not want to enjoy the objects of the senses which can only lead to misery. So, I shall pass on from the state of celibacy directly to the life of a sannyasi. Wealth, family ties and responsibilities are as unreal as a dream. Youth is transient as a flower which soon withers.

Excessive fondness for one's spouse and children is the root of all other evil tendencies. This body is made of inanimate matter and is ever changing and perishable. Only the 'Self' within is eternal and is our only true being.. Man can break the fetters of this illusion only through the grace of the Guru. Therefore, Oh mother, do not hinder me in my resolve. You shall be blessed with more children. Go on meditating on me and thereby you shall cross the ocean of misery and ignorance too".

So saying, Narahari again blessed his mother with the vision of his Divine form. She perceived it through the eye of wisdom and was at once reminded of her previous birth. She said to the Lord -"you are indeed Lord Sripaad who, in my previous life, saved me from my unwise resolve to commit suicide. I bow before you. To say that you are born to me as my son is but a fallacy; for you are eternal. I shall not hinder your resolve to renounce the world for the welfare of all sentient beings. You have assured me that I shall be blessed with a few more children. Pray, stay with us, at least till such time!' Lord Narahari graciously acceded to her request and stayed.

Many were the learned who flocked to him for the elucidation of intricate questions in scriptural knowledge. Many of them got their doubts clarified and attained Self-realization. After his mother had more children he covered his head with a piece of cloth, put on wooden sandals, wore an ochre robe and taking a staff in his hand, he set out.

Many were the learned who flocked to him for the elucidation of intricate questions in scriptural knowledge. Many of them got their doubts clarified and attained Self-realization. After his mother had more children he covered his head with a piece of cloth, put on wooden sandals, wore an ochre robe and taking a staff in his hand, he set out.

On his way to Badrinath, Narahari reached Varanasi (Kasi) as a seeker after liberation. Narahari, in accordance with tradition, resorted to His Holiness Swami Krishna Saraswati as his Guru and took the vow of sanyas. He came to be known as Shri Narasimha Saraswati. He formally took the vow of lifelong celibacy.. He expounded the meaning of the Vedas, which can secure the true object of life (Purusharthas). Then, he proceeded in his wanderings round the country in a clock-wise direction, along with his disciples. He had seven disciples and they were Baala, Krishna, Upendra, Janajyoti, Sadaananda, Madhava and Siddha.All have the title 'Saraswati' suffixed to their names.

He bathed in all the holy rivers along the way.From Benares he went to Badrika Ashram with his disciples. Then moving from place to place for the welfare of common people, he arrived at Ganga-sagar, near Calcutta. After 20 years Shri Nrisimha Saraswati reappeared at his home to the wonder and joy of his family and town people, He blessed them all. The miracles performed by him were meant to increase faith among people in a higher power and start them on the path of spiritual path.

He then went to Trayambakeswar, and at Parli Vaijnath he did penance for one year and remained in seclusion. Afterwards he went to Audumbar and Amarapur near the confluence of the rivers Krishna and the Panchaganga. At Amarapur he stayed 12 years. This place was called ""Nrsimhavadi" and later ""Narasob Avadi" by his affectionate disciples and devotees. From Amarapur he went to Ganagapur and remained there for 24 years. Narasimha Saraswati was now considered a 'Siddha Purusha' with Divine powers of healing physical ailments and alleviating worries of his devotees. Hindus and Muslims used to come to him considering him their Sadguru.

One day he bade good-bye to people of Ganagapur and with his 7 select disciples went to the confluence of Bhima and Amraja rivers and stood for a while under the Aswatha tree. He stated "worship this tree and practice penance, your wish will be fulfilled and your life will be blessed". He announced his departure from this world and his disciples were plunged in grief.

A float was prepared on the banana leaves and was adorned with flowers. This float was placed in the river and Shri Nrisimha Saraswati sat on it. All the disciples offered worship although their hearts were weighed down by grief. He told them he was going to Kadali-vana (grove of banana trees) near Srisailam (Andhra) and upon reaching there, as a mark of his safe arrival, clusters of flowers would come back floating against current. Soon after,

The master said, "Do not feel sad. How can I bear to be away from my devotees? I only seem to leave for Srisailam , but I will ever abide at Ganagapur in my real state as the Spirit or the real Self. I will seek my noon alms in this village and accept your loving devotional services. My living presence will be experienced by anyone who bathes in the Sangam (confluence of holy rivers), worships the Holy peepal tree and takes darshan of my padukas. The places where he stayed, have become centres of pilgrimage viz., Narsobawadi, Audumbar and Ganagapur.

Ganagapur is believed to be the abode of Lord Dattatreya. There is a holy hillock of Vibhuti (holy ash) from which devotees pick up the sacred ash as Prasad to take home. This hillock has not been depleted, even though devotees have been taking away sacred ash for centuries. The atmosphere in all the three pilgrimage centers is sublime and devotees feel peaceful and spiritually uplifted. Miracles take place at Gangapur even now.

Dattatreya - Supreme Fusion of the Trinity

Lord Dattatreya appeared as Universal Guru for us during Kaliyuga, a time when baser instincts rule mankind. Dattatreya incarnated on earth to establish 'Satya' (Truth), 'Rta' (Cosmic order), and Dharma (Universal moral principles) during recent times

His Ancient Incarnation

Datta-atreya, whose name literally means "one given to Atri" was the son of Atri maharishi. He combined the primal energy of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and thus he is represented with three heads.

Of these - Brahma is a symbol of Tejas (spiritual knowledge), Vishnu of Ojas (limitless energy) and Siva of Tapas (penance). Atri was one of the ten manasa-putras (mind-born sons) of Brahma. Atri's sons were the ten Prajapatis, who created the various forms of life on earth.

Vishnu had been cursed by Bhrgu muni to be born as a human, so he was born to Atri and Anasuya as Dattatreya who is also known by his short name Datta.

Two Legends about his Birth :

1. Silavati was a pativrata- and that means 'a wife totally dedicated to her husband'. Because of her devotion and sacrifice, she had power over Nature. When her husband Ugrasravas was cursed to die 'before sunrise' by Mandavya muni, Silavati ordered that 'the sun should not rise'. Instantly the whole world was in turmoil, and the celestials who are in charge of maintaining the various functions of the world prayed to Vishnu for help. Vishnu requested Anasuya, (wife of Sage Atri) to accompany him when he went to request Silavati to withdraw her curse. Vishnu assured Silavati that her husband would not die and Anasuya pleaded with Anasuya to take back her curse. Silavati was placated and the sun was able to shine again. Pleased with Anasuya's help, Vishnu asked her what she would like as a boon. Anasuya asked that the Trinity may be born as her sons. Vishnu was born as Datta, Siva as Durvasa, and Brahma as Soma (moon).

2. Sage Atri and his wife Anusuya, lived from the time that Brahma created the world. Atri was one of the Sapta rishis- the seven renowned sages of ancient times. Anasuya was the embodiment of chastity. Such was her spiritual power that hard, uneven earth turned soft and smooth for her as she walked about. Once when Narada doubtd Anasuya's exemplary sense of dharma, the Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva) decided to prove Anasuya's pristine purity to the world..

The three gods came as mendicants to the asram of Atri rishi and begged for alms calling out - "Bhavati bhikshaam dehi" (Mother, please give us food). Sage Atri was away performing his ablutions near the river bank. Anasuya came out of her hut to offer food to the holy guests. They said that they only ate food served by one who wore no garments. This extraordinary request placed Anasuya in a dilemma. In Indian tradition an 'atithi' (guest) cannot be turned away since the Vedas categorically state - 'Atithi devo bhava'. Through her intuition she guessed that these were not ordinary mendicants.

Anasuya who was anchored firmly in chastity, thought 'Since I am purified by long association with the holy sage Atri, I can never waver from dharma (universal moral codes) and I shall meet this challenge with trust in the Supreme power. These holy men have called me 'mother' and asked for food so I look upon them as my own children and not as strangers and grown up men.' Her thoughts - the thoughts of an immaculately pure person - instantly became reality. The adult guests became babies! Anasuya was able to carry out the behest of the three mendicants.

Sage Atri on his return to the hermitage saw his wife Anusuya with three babies. Anusuya said "These children are the gift of God to us who have been childless so far". Sage Atri was overjoyed and named them Datta, which means 'given'. At this juncture, the three Gods revealed their real forms and disclosed the truth. They extolled the chastity and purity of Anusuya which countered the combined power of all three of them. Sage Atri and Anusuya prayed that they should remain as their sons.

They consented and merged into one body. This is how Dattatreya was born. He appeared on the 14th day of the bright fortnight of the moon (sukla chaturdasi) in the month of Margasirsha (Dec).

Symbols of Dattatreya

His favorite abode is the holy Audambara Fig tree (Ficus glomerate). He has matted hair, his body is smeared with holy ash and he wears tiger-skin as his garment. A cow and four dogs are always with him as his constant companions. He is an avadhoota (ascetic) filled with compassion for all beings. He is seated in front of a homa kunda which indicates his sraddha in discipline and all spiritual practices.

The four dogs symbolise the four Vedas - the essence of Spiritual Wisdom. The four Vedas and kamandalu (water jug carried by ascetics) are symbols of Brahma.

The cow, which is always with him, represents Mother Earth (Bhu Devi) and is the visible form of Dharma - the Moral Laws that uphold Creation. She is also the wish-fulfilling cow -'Kamadhenu', who emerged from the Ocean of Milk during the great churning and chose to be with the rishis and take care of all their needs.

The 'Sudarshana chakra', the discus that he holds in his right hand indicates that he is beyond the cycles of time i.e. the past, present and future.

Since he holds the wheel of Time (Kala) firmly in his grip, he controls Time.

The Conch in his hand represents 'AUM' - the Primal vibrations that started Creation.

The Conch and the Discus and the Cow are associated with Vishnu.

Datta's Trident indicates that he has transcended the three gunas ( basic qualities) of the world which are - Sattva (calmness and clear thinking), Rajas ( tension and activity impelled by desire and ego), and Tamas (dullness and laziness.)

The Bhasma (ashes) smeared on his body indicate his vairaagya (dispassion).

Ashes symbolise the evanescent nature of all objects and are the residue of all matter.

The Damaru is a drum shaped like an hour-glass. The alphabets of languages and the rhythms of dance emanated from this drum.

The trident, the ashes on his body, the damaru show his Siva aspect.

The Japa-mala, and Begging bowl, of Dattatreya are the signs of a recluse, a yogi who is oblivious of all distinctions of caste, of class, or religion. The symbols of the yogi remind us that our primary duty is to remeber the Lord and thank him for all worldy success. Datta always carries a begging bowl to remind us to be humble about our accomplishments and to be grateful for the bounties of this world. The act of begging indicates that all life is based on mutual inter-dependence. We depend on each other and on Prakrti (Nature) for our survival.

The Saivas as well as the Vaishnavas worship him. In the Dattatreya Upanishad ( Atharva veda) the slokas on Vishnu end with 'Namah Sivaaya'.

Dattreya's disciples in Ancient ages

He guided the spiritual aspirations of the kings and the asuras of his period. Among his prominent disciples were Parasurama, Prahlada, Kartavirya-arjuna, and Yadu.

Datta's unique Philosophy

Dattatreya was born to Atri rishi who was established in tapas (penance) and Anasuya (one without greed and attachment). These two great ideals are manifested in the Datta's seeking of Moksha that made him renounce worldy experiences even from childhood. He is similar to Suka - Vyasa's son who was a born Brahma jnani.

The very word 'Datta" reminds us that of all great deeds, the greatest is the "act of Giving". The following line is a well known quotation from the Vedas that declares emphatically :

Na karmana na prajaya na dhanena Tyagena ekena amrtatvam anasuh/

(Not by your achievements, nor by your children, nor by your money, but only and solely by 'giving away' will you attain immortality)

Datta fused the worship of many divinities such as - Siva Vishnu and Shakti (in the fierce form of Chamunda) and that of Narasimha. He brought together the Vedic and the Tantric ways of worshipping the Supreme. He is represented as a yogi who ignored and bypassed all distinctions of caste, creed or class - thus bringing people a message of unity. In the Bhagavatam, Dattattreya lists 24 gurus from whom he learnt dharma - wind, fire, water earth and space, the snake, bee, elephant, fish, a courtesan, a child, a spider and so on. In every form of creation he saw the message of the Supreme.

The three important Terms used by Datta that are repeated in Tantrik texts are Pratibha , Sahaja and Samarasa

Pratibha means Illumination which is a flash of insight that even an illiterate uncultured person is capable of attaining through purity and right living. This term is used many times in the Avadhuta Gita - a work that is based on Datta's principles.

Sahaja means 'Naturalness' - cultivating the temperament of a child. It is to live a life that accepts as it is given, and not crave or envy others. In the sahaja state one is free from all conditioning and prejudices just like a child. In Zen philosophy (Japanese) and in Tao (Chinese) this kind of temperament is necessary because truth does not come through grasping or striving but is given to a person spontaneously by the Divine.

Samarasa is a state of absolute merging with the Supreme, it is total assimilation with the Divine (as in Advaita).

Krti on Lord Dattatreya

The following krti on Dattatreya has been composed by Ganapati Sacchidananda Svami and set to music by K.V.Narayanaswami.

Ranjani raga Misra Triputa tala.

Dattatreya Trimurti rupa tribhuvana loka rakshaka /

Kamadhenu Kalpa-vrksha kamita phala dayaka/

Anu :

Danda kamandalu sula damaruka shankha chakra shobhita/

Utthamothama purusho-tthama purnachandra prakatitha/

Ch :

Bhava bandhana bhava-bhaya-hara bhakta karuna sagara/

Krttika-akara siddha-anuchara siddha suddha manohara./

Sahayathri-vasa sachidananda sri guru Datta swarupa/

Meaning :

O Dattatreya, you are the combined form of Brahma Vishnu and Siva (Tri-murti); you are the protector of the three lokas (celestial, earthly and nether). You are like the celestial wish-fulfilling cow Kamadhenu and the Kalpa-vrksha-the tree in Svarga that gives boons.

You bear the danda (stick that is an emblem of Brahmacharya asrama) kamandalu (the ascetic's water jug) sula (Siva's lance), damaru (the drum of Siva); sankha-chakra shobhita (you are adorned by the conch and discus of Vishnu).You are the most exalted among the supreme gods, you are the Primal Purusha who is the power that impels Creation; you are radiant like the full moon.

You destroy our bandhana (worldly bonds) and bhaya (fears); you are an ocean of compassion for your devotees. You are effulgent like the Krittika stars (suggestion of the glory of Kartikeya), the celestial siddhas follow you; you are supremely successful, pure, and charming. O Datta avatara -you are the guru who has attained Bliss (Sacchidananda) who lives on the Sahayadri mountains. (Sacchidananda is also the signature of the composer Sri Sacchidananda Svami)

This krti has an enjoyable lilt as it is set in the rhythm of Chapu - 3 + 4 . In the setting there is an interesting mix of slow and fast tempo- Kamadhenu Kalpa vrksha kamita phala dayaka is in double speed. The Chitta svara at the end flows smoothly maintaining the same rhythmic pattern of the krti.

Shri Dattatreya is revered as Datta Guru

Dattatreya is worshipped in Gulbarga (Karnataka) at the shrine of Ganagapur where a saint who was his incarnation attained liberation. From childhood Datta did penance and was a yogi. He turned all those who came to him towards the spiritual path. His face radiated wisdom and supreme peace. Alhough he is the Supreme Lord, yet he is a total recluse and ascetic, keeping away from all pomp and luxury. He is the complete manifestation who combines the powers of creation, maintenance and destruction that are carried on by Brahma Vishnu and Siva. He is also the formless Para Brahmam who is totally detached from all nama rupa.

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