Article by – Sathya Shivakumar
Edited by – Shivakumar Chandrasekaran
Photos – Sharada Shivakumar
Dattatreya represents a phenomenon that is truly multidimensional, infinite and all encompassing. It is the very source and essence that permeates the universe. Dattatreya represents the trifold operations that take place continuously in the universe-creation, sustenance and dissolution. Mohanji says “Sarvam Datta Mayam” (Everything is Dattatreya.) One can connect to Dattatreya by connecting to nature and seeing the divinity in everyone and everything.
The sacred land of Bharath has given birth to many saints and Avatars. By reading literature related to Datta Avatars, one can learn about their similarities even though their inherent flavours may seem different. They come to wake up a generation of people from their slumber. They may perform bizarre acts but they operate to destroy the karmic seeds buried in our causal layer. Their love is not limited to humans and transcends all boundaries and concepts limited by the mind.
Datta Avatars have walked the length and breadth of this land, blessing the eligible ones on their journey and leading them to the ultimate quest of liberation. Through the ages, the Datta Masters have lit the lamp of inner awakening in the deserving while alleviating suffering and restoring righteousness. The Datta incarnations have transcended man made barriers to establish real and timeless values. Society operates on the limited values and morals that are bent to suit selfish desires, but Masters go beyond and help one touch the realms where only truth vibrates.
The lives of these Masters are a testimony to the values of purity, faith and non violence that remain eternal. Datta Masters are ever present and available but only those who are subtle can go beyond the gross and connect to the energy. As Mohanji says “Those who have eyes to see, will see!”
The path of Dattatreya is also the path of Fire. All our concepts, pseudo learning, conditioning get burnt in the fire of awareness. Transformation thus becomes inevitable in the journey. It is believed that Sripada Srivallabha, Narasimha Saraswati, Akkalkot Maharaj Swami Samarth, Manik Prabhu and Sai Baba are incarnations of Dattatreya.
We embarked on our sacred pilgrimage to the powerful centres of these Datta Avatars starting with Ganagapur during the Navaratri festival in October 2022. This place is associated with Sri Narasimha Saraswathi, considered the second incarnation of Dattatreya.
From Bangalore, one can travel to Kalaburgi (formerly known as Gulbarga) from where Ganagapur is about an hour’s drive. The main temple, where the Padukas of Sri Narasimha Saraswathi are worshipped, is known as Nirgun Math. It is said that Narasimha Saraswati spent most of his life at this site. One can perform the abhishekam and other sacred rituals to the lingam at the Abhisheka Mantap. The main sanctum sanctorum that houses the padukas can be seen only through the window. It serves as a significant learning and reminder that when Masters walk the earth in physical form, we cannot take their presence and physical proximity for granted. We completed the sacred rituals followed by an elaborate Rudrabhishekam and proceeded to the Bhima Amaraja sangam.
Sangam is a confluence of rivers or seas. A confluence of rivers is indeed special in India and venerated as a powerful center for purification. At the sangam, one can notice that while the streams have a different flavour and colour they merge and flow as one, just like the Datta tradition, which is a melting pot of many traditions and many mergers taking place.
At the sangam, one can offer flowers, bilva leaves and float a lamp to honour the sacred waters and the holy presence of Narasimha Saraswathi. On the banks of the river is the sacred Audumbar /Fig tree. Pilgrims take a dip in the river and circumambulate the tree. Some read the Guru Charitra. One can also pray and symbolically tie a thread to the tree, for a wish to be fulfilled. It certainly is a wish fulfilling tree!
Narasimha Saraswathi, before he merged in kadali vana in Srisailam, proclaimed that his presence would eternally radiate in Shree Kshetra Ganagapur and that he would accept the noon alms/biksha and those who bathe in Sangam would be absolved of their sins and not have untimely death. A float was prepared for his departure to Srisailam. He comforted his devotees and told them that a cluster of flowers would come by drifting against the current to indicate that He had reached the abode.
As we walk by the bank, there is a beautiful temple with a traditional sloping roof in the vicinity. This is the place where Narasimha Saraswathi spent 22 years and did his evening and twilight prayers, according to Guru Charitra. The priest briefed us about the significance of the place and mentioned it was the “Bakthistaan”. Shree Kshetra has all the three facets. “Karmastaan” which is the main mutt, “Bakthistaan”-The sangam and Kalleshwara temple the ‘Mukthistaan’.
After praying at the sangam, we proceeded to the Kalleshwar temple. One can offer sesame oil to the deity here as part of the prayer rituals. It is said that visiting this temple is equivalent to visiting the twelve Jyotirlingas. We performed sesame oil Abhishekam to Shaniswar Shila at this shrine. The structure that houses the main shiva linga was under restoration.
We headed back to the main temple in time for the noon Arathi. Arathi is a powerful time and this shrine has a unique vibe about it. Special drum beats are played during Arathi. One can also make an offering for that purpose in one’s name. We can witness myriad shades during this time – from devout people praying quietly, stray dogs roaming about freely or sitting alongside human devotees inside the temple and offering their prayers to those who seem possessed swinging on the railings or swaying to the beats of the drum and no one being offended or disturbed by it all. This struck us as an incredible and unique aspect of this powerful shrine.
Driving away evil entities and spirits is a less known facet of Lord Dattatreya. One may be terrified to see this without any prior knowledge. This powerful center heals people with chronic illness and those possessed by evil spirits. The atmosphere is truly soaked in “Dattamayam”(oneness without boundaries.)
After Arathi, one can partake of the Prasad. Offering food or Madhukari to at least five people is a practice followed till date in the village and devotees queue up to both offer and receive the prasad known as “bikshavandanam”.
The Khichdi and dhal preparation is a sight to behold. There are big carts inside the kitchen where vegetables are stocked. Food is offered to the Guru and then offered as Prasad to the devotees.
In the night, “Pallaki Seva” (palanquin ceremony) is performed. The Utsava murthy (ceremonial image) of Narasimha Saraswathi is placed inside a palanquin, which then circumambulates the sanctum Santorum, carried by devotees amid reverberating chants of Datta. The sacred vibes transport one to a different plane.
All kinds of people – religious, devout, mad, crazy, bizzare looking – wait in eager anticipation of the procession. The dogs that roam about also seem excited by the sounds of the drum and give a tough competition to those circumambulating the shrine by running around. A pale, skinny one stared at us, cringing its muscles till the ribs were visible. It yawned and relaxed showing off the canine teeth. As we fed a biscuit, we prayed that she wouldn’t bless us too much with her teeth impressions on our bodies! This whole experience felt like a practical test to assess if we truly see Datta in everything!
Another practice which seemed different was lying on the ground prostrating with the body fully stretched, as the Pallaki is carried around. The palanquin bearers carrying the idol, walk on top and this is symbolic of a cleansing for the soul. It is indeed a surreal experience with so many different flavours with Lord Dattatreya at play amidst all of this.
We left for Akkalkot after lunch. Akkalkot Maharaj or Swami Samarth is the third avatar of Dattatreya. From texts, we come to know that his entry and exit are both mysterious. Some say that Narasimha saraswathi took Samadhi at Kadali vanam. He remained in samadhi for close to three hundred years. As years rolled by he was covered by anthill. A woodcutter happened to clear the bushes surrounding the anthill and in the process, his axe accidently fell on the anthill. The woodcutter was perplexed to find his axe stained by blood and noticed it oozing out of the ant hill. It was a grand moment when he discovered the anthill was in fact covering a yogi in samadhi!
The yogi emerged and explained that it was time to reveal himself again to the world. The yogi travelled far and wide and came to Akkalkot. His numerous leelas/divine plays earned him the title Akkalkot Maharaj (Emperor of Akkalkot) and Swami Samarth.
It was evening by the time we reached there. We had coffee at Shri Samarth Amruthalay. It is a different experience to even have a cup of tea or coffee at a pilgrim center. It is as though we are savouring the taste of the place along with the cup of tea. As we entered the shrine, it was a homely feeling. The roof, the paintings, the fragrance of the incense at once evoked the senses to focus on the divine. A few ladies clad in traditional marathi sarees were singing verses and bhajans. It truly transported us to a world totally cutoff from the noises. The sanctum sanctorum has a huge life size figure of Swami Samarth. As we neared the altar, the priest was engrossed in puja. It was not very crowded. Quite contrary to what we had expected. It felt as though Swami Samarth had arranged this specially for us. Only when they wish it, can we even step into their shrine!
An old man waved the aarthi and showed it to us with a cheerful demeanour. We were blessed with a shawl that we carried home as a blessed presence of Swami Samarth. The other significant feature of the temple complex is the sacred tree where Swami Samarth is said to have merged with the divine.
It is believed that when Swami Samarth left his body, a part of him merged in the tree and the other at Shirdi. The tree is now well protected with a fence all around, again a reminder how increasingly difficult it becomes to access the divine presence that places are imbued with, as years pass by. We managed to place our heads against the sacred tree.
We tried to catch another glimpse of Swami Samarth before leaving the premises. Within a short span of time, there were many waiting to take darshan. We were early birds. To confirm the feeling another blessing in the form of sweet candy came from the old man. We fed a hungry dog that joined us as we circumambulated the shrine.
From the main temple, we went to Chollapa’s house. Chollapa is an ardent devotee of Swami Samarth and one of the first to recognise the stature of his master. Chollapa had an intense desire that Swami Samarth should take samadhi at his residence. Swami knew the yearning of the disciple. Swami found that Chollapa was digging a pit in his house for this purpose. He was also fully aware of Chollapa’s destiny – that Chollapa would leave the world before him. He remarked that Chollapa would use the ditch in his house before he did. True to the words of Swami Samarth, Chollapa shed his mortal coils before Swami. Swami Samarth fulfilled the desire of his devotee. When Swami Samarth left the body, his body was taken around on a grand procession and then taken to Chollapa’s house. Here it was placed in lotus posture in a vault.This is now known as the samadhi mandir.
On our way back, as we reflected on the amazing events that day, we noticed a truck just ahead of us had the icon of Vel, a symbol of Lord Subramanya. It is not very common to observe this in North India. This prompted another miracle of Swami Samarth to be shared. One of the devotees of Swami Samarth was deeply devoted to Lord Subramanya. He wanted to join his friends on a group pilgrimage to the south for Karthika Purnima. Swami Samarth, however, did not give permission to this devotee. The devotee stayed back heeding the words of his master.
Swami Samarth’s grace was boundless. He blessed the devotee with the vision of Subramanya in Himself. The ways of Datta Masters can never be understood. It is stranger than fiction.
The next morning, we set out to Manik Nagar after a quick visit to Basma hill, which is near the Sangam. It is believed that Lord Parashuram performed penance and a grand yagna (fire ceremony) at this very place, as instructed by Dattatreya. The place was covered by the ashes from the yagna, vibrating positive energy and purifying the land with it and came to be known as Basma Hill.
We walked up a narrow lane with old women in running stalls on either side, selling bananas and greens which one could buy and offer to the cows sheltered there. The lane opened out to a huge arena surrounded by greenery filled with black soil. The sun was just peeking through the trees.The fragrance of wet earth wafted through the fresh air. It was such a serene setting for meditation and was also quite enjoyable to feed the cows that were waiting for their first meal of the day. There was a small shrine of Dattatreya beneath the canopy of huge trees. As Mohanji says, “Dattatreya is nature!”
The natural setting instantly evoked the feeling of entering a powerful place. As we stood in front of the shrine, we found something peculiar in Narasimha Saraswathi’s image. It had one eye open and the other seemed closed. We inferred that it meant that one eye was to cherish the inner world and the other for the outer world! The lives of masters is a message to the world on how one should always channelize the energies and balance the inner and outer planes. Slowly other people started trickling into the site. It was really touching to see the devotion of the village folk. It appeared that they had travelled long distances. Some women were in wet clothes, coming straight to Basma hill after a dip in the sangam. It was inspiring to see their deep devotion as they performed simple rituals to the deity. They had carried water all the way from the sangam, exclusively for offering it to the Shiva lingam. Some were smearing the black soil ash from the ground all over the bodies like a mud bath!
The ash is considered very powerful and wards off the evil eye. Children apply it to protect themselves from chronic ailments and pregnant women do so praying for a healthy child. A little puppy frolicked about playfully and kept us company for the entire duration we were there, following us till the exit, as we left carrying a handful of soil from this holy place.
Manik Prabhu, a great mystic, is considered as the fourth incarnation of Dattatreya. He was born on Dattatreya Jayanthi to a pious couple.
The parents used to celebrate Ram Navami. They had a vision that a divine child would be born to them. Accordingly, the child was born. He was brought up by his maternal uncle as his father passed away. As a young lad, he used to ramble about in the nearby forest and hills. His carefree attitude led others to mistake him for a mad man. Though he appeared very ordinary, he was bestowed with truly extraordinary power and had once even revived a friend who died due to a snake bite. On a hot summer noon, while he was having a siesta, his uncle reprimanded his laid back nature. This turned out to be the turning point as he left home with no belongings. He expressed the true purpose in his first song.
Who else be my Saviour,
save the compassionate Lord?
Creator and the Destroyer
as well, my lone Controller.
Through delusion, ‘I AM,’
Thus does a person consider.
Who, verily, is the servant
and who, indeed, is the Lord?
is this distress for one to worry,
Even in one’s mother’s womb,
He alone was the Witness.
Thus, verily, does Manik speak.”
It is believed that Lord Dattatreya gave him Danda, Deeksha and Jholi.(stick,initiation and bag) This indicated his future mission as a wandering saint. Manik Prabhu travelled far and wide across Bharath, bringing solace to troubled souls and initiating them on their journey of spiritual evolution. He finally came to Manik Nagar at the confluence of Viraja and Guruganga river and settled down there. He established the Gadi or spiritual seat. There are no icons associated with it. The idea behind this is to visualise the Supreme reality or parabrahma as per one’s orientation. He was considered a Raja yogi.
The current temple complex is a majestic palatial structure reminiscent of the kingdoms of yore. The shrine has bright lamps lit and the altar has only a seat with a bright colored cloth adorning it. This symbolises the philosophy that Manik Prabhu stood for.
We were engrossed looking at the paintings on the wall that depicted Manik Prabhu’s life story when the sound of Arathi prompted us to get close to the altar to participate in the Noon Arathi that was being performed. We further soaked in the aura of the place by going to the Audumbar tree, a cave-like entrance where his successor meditated and small shrines with shiva lingams. The temple complex is magnificent with the domes and beautiful architecture. We peeped into two locked rooms at the base in front of the temple, wondering what could be inside that is kept under lock and key. A regular visitor told us that the cots used by Manik Prabhu and his successor were inside. This was another insight into how even the objects used by Masters eternally vibrate their presence as also the importance of preserving them for future generations to benefit!
As we circumambulated the temple shrines and came back to the main altar, we were invited to partake of the prasad, which was quite unexpected and a blessing!
The lunch experience was divine and memorable as we were seated alongside and also served by students of the Veda Patashala (Vedic School) run by the foundation. Little children vibrantly chanted the Mantras as they served food in joy. We were overwhelmed by the love that we experienced. It was a fabulous farewell for what had been a trip filled with myriad experiences of Datta kshetras. It also served as one final reminder that when we surrender fully to Guru without expectations, grace flows in abundance.
Dattatreya is eternity incarnate
Dattatreya is freedom. Dattatreya is purity. Dattatreya is continuity. Dattatreya has no birth and no death. Dattatreya is everything. Dattatreya is everywhere. Dattatreya is every aspect of our existence.
The shower of grace continues!