Shri Dattatreya, or Datta for short, is one of the oldest Hindu deities. He is considered an incarnation of the Hindu gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. He descended to Earth to save mankind by establishing satya (universal truth), rta (natural or cosmic order) and dharma (principles of justice).
The name, sometimes spelled Dattathreya, comes from the Sanskrit datta, which means “gift” or “giver”, athr which means “great” and eya, which means “a collection of”. Atreya is an honorary title used by the descendants of the sage, Atri. Dattatreya, as the son of Atri, is the most direct descendant of the sage. Her heritage includes Ashtanga yoga.
Explaination of Dattatreya
Various Hindu religion worship Dattatreya differently, although he is considered a form of the three deities known as Trimurti – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. Devotees believe that Dattatreya is not a deceased sage from ancient times, but is still physically alive today.
Considered a guru of all creation and environmental education, Dattatreya said he had 24 teachers who came from nature, including the sky, the sea, the fire and the bee.
Dattatreya gave the world what is now known as Ashtanga yoga: the eightfold path of yoga which was codified by the sage, Patanjali:
1. Yama: integrity, ethics
2. Niyama: self-discipline and spiritual observance
3. Asana: Posture or Pose
4. Pranayama: breath control exercises
5. Pratyahara: withdrawal from the outside world, detached from the senses
6. Dharana: concentration
7. Dhyana: meditation, contemplation
8. Samadhi: The state of being one with the Divine, ecstasy
Philosophy and the figurative form
Figuratively Dattatreya is depicted having three heads. This is to indicate that he is the deity in which the Trinity is synthesized and presides over all three qualities of the soul. The figurative aspect of Dattatreya was poetically designed by sages.
In his figurative symbol, Sri Guru Datta is accompanied by 4 dogs. These four dogs represent the four Vedas, the four Yugas and the four states of the World. They also refer to the four states of existence.
The dog is one of the sublime symbols of the Veda. The dog represents the ability to listen, to listen to the distance and to listen to the subtle. Dogs have a better ability to listen than humans.
The Vedic symbol related to the dog relates to the Dog Star. The Vedic sages conceive of the energies of love and compassion that are received into our system as coming from Sirius.
The replica of the Sirius System on this planet is the Hierarchy with its Ashrams in the Himalayas and the Blue Mountains. The Head of the Hierarchy, Lord Maitreya is considered in connection with the Lord of the Sarameya (Sirius system) whose Lord is Dattatreya.
Dattatreya is considered to be accompanied by a healthy white cow. The cow is under the protection of Sri Guru Datta. In the Vedic symbol, cows are there for creation and also for our planet Earth.
The planet and creation offer innumerable richness, experiences of pleasure, happiness, joy and blessing. They want to be milked to nurture beings in all planes of existence. Drinking cow’s milk is the symbol of nourishment, growth and contentment in the physical, vital, mental, buddhic and supreme planes.
The cow, the woman, the planet, the solar system and the cosmic system are all different states of the same principle of the cow. With the right approach and the right attitude towards them, man gains the splendor of life. With the wrong approach, man is doomed to fall and suffer.
The ancient Indian scriptures proclaim that no one, if he intends to live in peace, can afford to kill a cow, a woman and the planet (of course he is unable to kill the solar system). one worships, protects and nurtures the three, so they are inclined to favorably come to him. Their favorable tendency gives the inexplicable joy and pleasure of being. It is for this reason that Dattatreya is considered the protector of the cow. The cow is the giver of all achievement, joy, happiness and experience and he follows Dattatreya.
The six hands
Sri Guru Datta is depicted with three heads and six hands. In one hand he holds a conch shell, in the other hand he holds a celestial wheel, in the third hand a club, in the fourth a trident, in the fifth hand a vessel of water and in the sixth a begging bowl.
The conch indicates the principle of expansion and contraction presided over by Jupiter and Saturn. Every expansion requires consolidation and vice versa. On the path of Truth there is the expansion of consciousness which needs to be consolidated at every step.
The wheel is present from time to time, presided over by the teacher of truth. It initiates the disciple into time-bound knowledge, so that the disciple can skillfully adapt to favorable and unfavorable periods of life without being disturbed in terms of vibrations by pleasant and unpleasant events. Since the Teacher, Sri Guru Datta is “the one beyond the three qualities”, time cooperates with him and helps him to help the seekers of Truth.
3. The club (impact weapon)
The club is symbolic of the instrument that overcomes pride. Personal pride needs to be sacrificed on the altar of service to fellow beings and Sri Guru Datta approximately uses the club to lessen the pride of those who follow the Path of Peace. The club also symbolizes the inverted position of the cerebrospinal system which is the abode of consciousness. If the mass is held straight, it looks like the light from the head, followed by the column of light from the spine. Srī Guru Datta humbles the truth seekers and reverses many of the inversions that the truth seeker suffers from.
4. The Trident
The trident held by Sri Guru Datta is the symbol of the triple energy held in etheric form within the brahmadanda, the center of the spine. The triple energies are oriented as ida, pingala and sushumna. They are the currents of left, right and central energy. The left current causes materialization, the right current causes spiritualization and the central current causes the balance between the two, allowing the existence of the being in a particular plan of existence.
5. The water container
The water vessel of Sri Guru Datta is, in essence, the carrier of life. The teacher could distribute life and longevity to the student oriented towards him, thus the student would be accomplished through yoga during this incarnation. It is for this reason that a true teacher is a true healer and is even a giver of life. Until the student attains mastery, he aids the student in health and longevity. The teacher grants three essential blessings to the student. In fact he wants them. One is longevity, another is health, and the third blessing is the path of Truth leading to mastery.
6. The begging bowl
The begging bowl: Sri Guru Datta carries a begging bowl, but he is not a beggar. To protect sentient beings, he begs them to give up their limitations, impurities, evil motives, and low-quality conducts. It is for this reason that he stretches out his hand with a begging bowl to whoever comes to him. He would like his devotees to willingly give whatever is the cause of sickness so that the giver would be relieved.
Sources: PinterPandai, Sanskriti Magazine
- Source/Photographer: http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00routesdata/0400_0499/pantheon/arddhanarishvara/arddhanarishvara.html
- Artist: Raja Ravi Varma (1848–1906) via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)