Numerous are the incarnations which undergo dissolution with the passage of time. Lord Dattatreya (that is the Guru principle) however is unlike this, He never undergoes dissolution. - Ramavijay 13:21 by Shridharswami
Never born, never died, since the inner guidance of sentient beings is eternal, thus Datta’s mission continues, uninterrupted, undiminished, till the end of the cycle of evolution of consciousness, till every living being attains the Final Liberation (Moksha). There is no recorded date of Bhagawan Dattatreya having left the body.
However, there are different incarnations (Avatars) in which Datta is said to have appeared. According to the book "Shridattareya Shodashavatar Charitanee" by Shri Vasudevananda Saraswati, Dattatreya is supposed to have taken sixteen Avatars.
The names and their birth date (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.
There are various traditions of Dattatreya which are mainly from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.
The primary avatars of the Datta Sampradaya are as follows:
SRI PADA SRI VALLABHA
Sripada Srivallabha is the first and foremost Avatar (incarnation) of Sri Dattatreya. His aim was to Bless Great Siddhas (realized beings) and yogis, to uplift dharma through them in the Universe and to impart knowledge to the ignorant through his actions, sportive plays and miracles. He is described as very bright, lustrous, handsome and tall. Infinite love and mercy seem to flow from his eyes like a “stream”. He looks like a small boy but actually is the great sage that supports the entire creation. He is the Sole Refuge in times of hunger and total exhaustion, and he is very close to the physical and mental consciousness of the soul of all beings as per Lord Dattatreya. According to the process of Creation, Preservation and Destruction Sri Bhagawan Dattatreya is the Supreme Being who himself took human form and incarnated on this earth as Shripaada Vallabhaji.
He was born to a Brahmin couple Sri Appalaraja Sarma and his wife Sumathi. When Appalaraja Sarma’s family was preparing for the shraad (a yearly ceremony to pay homage to the departed souls), around noon, a beggar came asking for alms. The Vedas say that an unexpected visitor who comes for alms at the time of meals is none other than Lord Vishnu himself. Therefore before feeding the invited Brahmins, Sumathi fed this Bhikshuk, considering him as a form of the Lord. At this Dattatreya was pleased. He revealed His true self to Sumathi and offered her a boon. She asked for a son "knowledgeable like you". Before this, she had had many children, none of whom had survived except two sons, one of whom was blind and the other lame. Dattaatreya blessed her by saying that she would have a son who would be a Guru to all. In time she had a baby who had holy marks on the soles of his feet. The child was duly Sripada (Divine Feet). He grew up to be wise, valiant, charming, shining with Divine radiance and filled with great knowledge of Shastras, Vedas and Puranas. At 16 years of age, he left on a pilgrimage.
He is the uncreated Creator, the One without second. Words are powerless to describe His prowess.
He is revered as the teacher of all spiritual teachers (gurunamguruh). He is a direct incarnation of Supreme Consciousness or Para Brahman
SRI NARASIMHA SARASWATI
The next avatar of Dattatreya was the legendary Narasimha Saraswati. His birth name was Narahari. The first word he uttered after birth was ‘Aum’. Thereafter, till the age of seven he didn’t speak any word besides ‘Aum’, much to the anxiety of his parents. At the age of seven he suddenly began reciting the Vedas and explaining them. He left home and went to Kashi, on a pilgrimage where he became a renunciate by taking Sanyas from Sri Krishna Saraswati and getting a new name, Narasimha Saraswati. Thereafter he wandered extensively, going to various Holy places and spiritual centers before going home to see his parents.
The main work of Narasimha Saraswati was the revival of Sanatan Dharma (the Eternal Hindu tradition). The main teaching of Narasimha Saraswati has been that the life of Brahmins is fully covered by the rules given in the old scriptures and they are to be strictly followed by them in their daily lives to achieve happiness and ultimately moksha (the final attainment of soul where the soul is liberated from the cycle of rebirths). He insisted that his disciples follow these routines. This went a long way in reviving the self-confidence and self-esteem of the Hindus which, at the time, was at an all time low, as the Hindus were then being persecuted by their foreign rulers. This revival of the traditions gave rise to an entire generation of valiant leaders like Shivaji and Peshwas in later years in Maharashtra.
Swami Narasimha Saraswati’s grace was all inclusive, He helped people from all the communities and all walks of life, even curing the Muslim King, the Sultan of Bedar, who having been suffering from a persistent disease, finally visited the Guru for a cure. By and by his fame spread far and wide and crowds thronged around him from all over. Weary of the crowds, he once again decided to pursue solitary practice and retired to the jungle of Kardali to perform severe penance on the Shail Mountain. (His subsequent avatar, Sri Swami Samarth of Akkalkot is said to have come from this very Kardali forest). It is believed he also took pilgrimages to many places relieving people of their miseries and guiding them on the spiritual path.
Sri Narsimha Saraswati had a great love for music. Even today this association of music and spirituality continues in both Hindu and Sufi traditions.
In accordance with the grand Datta-tradition, he is believed to have reincarnated as Shri Swami Samartha of Akkalkot.
SHRI SWAMI SAMARTH OF AKKALKOT
Shri Swami Samarth Maharaj also known as Shri Akkalkot Maharaj was the third successive reincarnation of Guru Dattatreya. He was the highest example of wisdom and knowledge and revered as an Avadhoot, a Maha Yogi, possessing great spiritual powers.
We do not talk of the ‘birth’ of Swami Samarth but only of his ‘appearance’ about 873 years ago. There are two versions of his appearance. According to one version, he manifested as an eight year old boy at Chelikheda near Hastinapur (Uttar Pradesh, India). The other version says that he is the same Sri Narasimha Saraswati who reappeared from the Kardali forest after remaining in Samadhi state for three centuries. Swami himself said that he came from the Kardali forest, and repeatedly went on pilgrimages to places like Haridwar, Benares, Rameswaram, all the way to Nepal and other places before settling in the district of Akkalkot. Since his fame spread from Akkalkot, he is also known as "Akkalkot Swami”, "AkalkotMaharaj", "Maharaj of Akkalkot" and "Akalkot Niwasi Maharaj" besides “Sri Swami Samarth”.
As his name spread, many devotees came for blessings. Not everybody understood many of Swami’s gestures and mystical statements. Swami Samarth treated everybody irrespective of class or creed. He always showed his kindness to the poor, and needy.
Swami Samarth was in favor of mass feeding. One day on his visit to a place called Rampur, a devotee named Rawaji prepared food for fifty people. However upon receiving the news that Swami Samarth had arrived at that village, hundreds of people gathered. Naturally, the host got anxious about the food which would be insufficient to feed such a large number of people. Swami, upon seeing Rawaji in this state asked for some baskets. Some figurines of deities were placed in the empty baskets and the food was placed over them, Swami asked the host and his wife to circumambulate the Tulsi tree thrice and then serve the food without ever looking into the basket. As the food was being served Rawaji and his wife were amazed that each guest had his fill without exhausting the food. After all the guests had finished their meal, Swami Samarth partook of the food. This is known as ‘Annapurna Siddhi’.
Swami Samarth had the ability to read the minds of all who visited him and he also knew their past and future. He expressed oneness with all creation. On 30 April 1878 after nearly 600 years of the incarnation, the great sage took Mahasamadhi (the last conscious communion with God) under his favorite Banyan tree. Even after this, till today, Swami’s devotees continue to have his darshans and experience the miracles of his visible and invisible help.
Together with Akkalkot Swami, and Sai Baba of Shirdi, Nityananda proved to be one of the three most extraordinary and mysterious Siddhas of recent years, part of the living tradition of Dattatreya.
Little is known of the childhood and upbringing of this Divine being who came to be known as ‘Bhagwan’- the Lord, the venerable One. A janma siddha - one born with full Self realization, Bhagwan Nityananda spontaneously manifested atma jnana - knowledge of the Self. There is no real biography of his, however, over the years of his human life, his inner Divinity shone and illuminated many. He was a siddha, a sage with the ability to awaken the consciousness of seekers.
Legend has it that at the end of the nineteenth century a child christened Ramana was discovered in the southern state of Kerala in India. Ramana was taken care of by Uniamma Nair and her husband, who entrusted the young boy to their landlord Ishwar Iyer upon nearing their death. Since Ramana perpetually remained in a state of Divine Bliss, he came to be called as “Nityanand” (Perpetual Bliss). His awareness of spiritual matters was extraordinary. A close attachment developed between young Nityanand and his lawyer guardian Ishwar Iyer, a devout Hindu who took him along on several pilgrimages all over India.
Before the age of twenty, Nityananda took leave of his guardian and became a wandering yogi, spending time on yogic studies and practices in the Himalayas and other places. By 1920, he was back in southern India. Over time, he gained a reputation as an enlightened Master and miraculous healer. He could hear unspoken words and knew each person’s inner desire. Crowds of seekers were drawn to his wisdom and blessings. He was an avadhuta and an ascetic, who could go from the gentleness of a healer to the volatile anger of an ascetic in minutes. For this reason, his behavior remained unpredictable and enigmatic. Eventually by the mid-1930s, he settled in the village of Ganeshpuri in Maharashtra where his Samadhi lies. A shrine, (Gurudev Siddha Peeth Ashram) dedicated to him and other buildings associated with his life also stand here.
As a guru, Nityananda gave relatively little by way of verbal teachings. Most of his teaching was by silent means and through transference of spiritual energy (Shaktipat). Occassionally he would choose to speak, give answers or teach. These notes, compiled by his devotee Tulsiamma were later published as the ‘Chidakasha Gita’.
He taught that “The attention towards the visible should be lessened. The love towards the invisible should be increased.”
The core of his teachings is, “The Heart is the hub of all sacred places. Go there and roam.”
SAI BABA OF SHIRDI
Sai Baba of Shirdi is a saint or faqir acknowledged as God Himself who descended and walked the earth in human form. A true Sadguru or a Sufi Pir, Shirdi Sai Baba lived between 1839-1918. Little was known about his birth and childhood till his next ‘avatar’ (incarnation) Sri Sathya Sai Baba revealed it.
What we knew earlier was only of his ‘appearance’ as a young lad in the small village of Shirdi in Maharashtra in the early eighteenth century. He was greeted with the words 'Ya Sai!', meaning 'Welcome Sai!' by the local temple priest. ‘Sai’ is a Persian title given to Sufi saints, meaning 'poor one'. Later the word ‘Baba’ meaning father was suffixed to this name. Thus he was known as Sai Baba of Shirdi for all ages to come. Nobody knows his birth name.
The young bearded man with sparkling eyes took shelter in a dilapidated mosque and made it his home for the rest of his life on Earth. His extraordinary divine nature and unearthly miracles that he casually performed from time to time led him to be worshipped by both Hindus and Muslims alike. Much about his life is recorded in the ‘Sai Satcharita’ and many bits have been revealed by his next ‘avatar’, Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
Shirdi Sai Baba was unique in that His life and conduct itself was a teaching. He was neither a Muslim nor a Hindu. For a Hindu he lived in a mosque, and for a Muslim he lit the sacred fire, ‘dhuni’ inside the mosque. Proclaiming “Allah Malik!” in his verbal expressions, He sometimes appeared as Hindu deities or other saints to his devotes. His very name, or a bit of the ‘udi’ (ashes from the sacred fire) is said to perform miracles even today. His main teaching was ‘Shraddha’ (Faith) and ‘Saburi’ (Compassion or patience). He said that these were the attributes that led man to attain the state of Godliness. His most concise message for one and all was “Why Fear when I am here.”
He embodied spiritual perfection and compassion and lived off alms received from the common folk. And whatever he received, he would immediately distribute among the people, never preserving anything even for the next meal. He kept a sacred fire (‘dhuni’) lit in the mosque all his life and gave its sacred ash (‘udi’) to all who sought his blessing. All the money offered by devotees, was also immediately distributed to the needy. Sometimes he would specifically ask certain persons for an offering. This was a means to remove their past karmic debts. In his divine omniscience, he knew exactly what any individual’s soul needed for its spiritual journey; different methods for different people. Sometimes short tempered and volatile, and sometimes full of compassion and love, Baba granted a vision- to each, his own.
He interpreted the religious texts of both Islam and Hinduism. He explained the meaning of the Hindu scriptures on the one hand and encouraged performing of namaz, chanting of Al-Fatiha, and Qur'an readings on the other.
Saying “Allah Malik” he said, "He has no beginning... He has no end."
Sai Baba of Shirdi was recognized as an incarnation of the Lord during his lifetime. He was not merely a God realized Saint, but the very embodiment of Divinity itself. Even today, miracles are seen and felt by his devotees across the distance of time and space.
Shri Gurucharitra tradition
Besides these avatars, several other great beings are also Datta Avatars. The entire lineage of these avatars following Shripad Shrivallabha and Shri Narasimha Saraswati is called the Gurucharitra Tradition.
Two major traditions were also started by Shri Swami Samarth of Akkalkot and Shri Vasudevananda Saraswati alias Tembe Swami.
The famous incarnations of the Gurucharitra traditon are Shri Janardanswami, Eknath, Dasopant, Niranjan Raghunath, Narayan Maharaj Jalwankar, Manik Prabhu, Gajanan Maharaj of Shegoan, Shri Vasudevananda Saraswati etc.
Some notable disciples of Shri Narasimha Saraswati were, Trivikram bharati from Kumasi, Sayamdev, Nagnath, Devrao Gangadhar and Saraswati Gangadhar from Kadaganchi.
The ancient Puranic scriptures have the reference of many disciples of Lord Dattatreya. Karatavirya Sahasrajun was one of Datta’s favorites. He worshipped the Lord and obtained boons. There were other disciples like Alarka (Madalasa-garbharatna), King Aayu from Somavansha, King Yadu (son of Yayaati and Devayaani) of Yadavs (Krishna's dynasty) and Shri Parashurama alias Bhargava.
Sakalmat Sampradaya tradition
Sakalmat meaning ‘all faiths’ is a tradition of the Rajyogi or Royal type. It makes no distinctions between the rich and poor or people from different faiths/ traditions. Since all faiths lead to the ultimate state, people from all religions, castes, communities and faiths are allowed here.
The name ‘Sakalmat’ meaning ‘all faiths’ involves and assimilates all spiritual sects and creeds, loudly asserting that all the various religions, traditions and sects, in the end, lead to the same God. Therefore, an all inclusive thought and spirit underlines this tradition.
The chief Deity in this sect is “Chaitanya-Dev” – The Universal soul or ‘Atma’. The tradition was started by “Shri Manik Prabhu” the fourth incarnation of the Universal Lord Shri Dattatreya
Avadhut Panth tradition
The Avadhut panth or sect was started by Shri Pantmaharaj Balekundrikar of Balekundri near Belgaum. Shri Pant Maharaj was an avadhuta himself and demonstrated the existence of the God within everyone and ways to attain eternal bliss in simple ways without needing intricate Yoga procedures or ‘sanyasa’. He explained the concepts of ‘Sahaj samadhi’, ‘ajapajap’, etc. He also preached the message of love, the strength of truth and devotion to Sadguru, the teacher, the guide and the friend on the divine path.
The main disciples of this tradition are, Govindaraoji, Gopalraoji, Shankarraoji, Vamanrao and Narasimharao. These are all called "Panta-bandhu"s i.e. Panta-brothers. This sampradaya is spread across Balekundri, Daddi, Belgaum, Akol, Kochari, Nerali, Dharwad, Gokak, Hubal.
Today the temple housing the ‘paduka’ (footwear) of Shri Pant Maharaj stands in a mango grove in Belgaum.
Mahanubhav Panth, by Sri Chakradhar Swami, considers Dattatreya to be their Adi Guru (the original Guru) and an incarnation of supreme lord (‘Parmeshwar’). The form they worship has one head and two arms and is eternally present through all ‘yugas’ (ages of mankind). Thus he is also called ‘chaturyugi’. They say He still roams the earth in different bodies and may appear in the form of an avadhut, a tiger, a hunter or a sage.
Srimad Bhagwatam's tenth volume mentions that Dattatreya gave a discourse to king Yadu in the tretayug (the second Yuga according to the Hindu tradition). On seeing Dattatreya in the form of an avadhut, king Yadu got instantly attracted towards Him and begged Him to bestow him with secrets to attain Moksha. Dattatreya Prabhu gave him Brahmjnaan (knowledge of the Supreme Brahman) and went back into the wilderness. Even today, many followers visit this wilderness, marked with places where Dattatreya is believed to have roamed.
Author: Aparrna Sharma