What is the significance of chanting Sri Gurudev Datta?

Incarnations of Lord Datta



1. Mission and special features

A. The one maintaining the honour of the code of the four classes (varnas) and stages (ashrams).

B. The model of the Guru principle and preacher for Yoga (Shandilyopanishad). Sahasrarjun, Parshuram, etc. are the renowned disciples of Datta.

C. The teacher of the science of Tantra (Tripurasundarirahasya).

D. The one who wanders as per His own will, the one (like Krushna) beyond restrictions (Markandeya Puran).

E. The one behaving according to His wish and always being there for someone who remembers Him.

F. Bestower of detachment (other deities bestow everything else).

G. Avadhut (Refer point ‘2.1’.)

H. A symbol of equanimity.

  • Shaivites and Vaishnavites: Both these sects are drawn to Datta due to His form as a Guru.
  • Hindus and Muslims: In the ritualistic worship (puja) of Datta by Hindus both music and incense (dhup) are important as in the Muslim religion.

I. The one resolving the problem of ancestors’ subtle souls (Refer point ‘The problem of ancestors’ souls’.)

J. Constant wandering

  • 1. Bath: Varanasi
  • 2. Application of sandalwood paste: Prayag.
  • 3. Collection of the afternoon alms: Kolhapur
  • 4. The afternoon meal: Panchaleshvar (Bid district) in the stream of river Godavari.
  • 5. Chewing a roll of betel leaves together with betelnut, lime, catechu, etc. (tambul): Rakshasbhuvan in Bid district, Marathvada.
  • 6. Listening to spiritual discourses (pravachans and kirtans): Naimisharanya (Bihar)
  • 7. Sleep: Mahurgad
  • 8. Yoga: GirnarThe places at points 1, 3 and 7 are famous.

K. Principle, ability and manifest energy

  • Principle: 100% (Isham = 100%)
  • Ability: Creation 10%, sustenance 80% and dissolution 10%Since the ability for sustenance is 80% according to various holy texts Datta is generally considered the sixth among the 24 incarnations of Lord Vishnu and rarely the fourth or the seventh.
  • Manifest energy: 10%

2. Science behind the idol

Around 1000 A. D. the idol of Lord Datta became three-faced (trimukhi). Before that it had only one face.

Object in the hand Representing whom?
1. Kamandalu (water pot) and japamala
2. Conch and discus Vishnu
3. Trident and small hourglass shaped
drum (damaru)

3. Implied meaning of the family

  • The cow (behind the idol): The earth
  • The four dogs: The four Vedas
  • The holy fig tree (oudumbar): A symbol of Datta, worthy of worship as the Datta principle exists in it in a greater amount.

4. Incarnations

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 Sridharswami

Implied meaning: Since Datta performs the function of the Guru principle His mission continues till all attain the Final Liberation (Moksha).

In all, Sri Datta assumed sixteen main incarnations. The book ‘Sri Dattatreya Shodashavataraha’ by H.H. Vasudevanand Sarasvati narrates the stories of these incarnations.

5. Spiritual practice

A. Meticulous observance of the code of conduct according to the four classes (varnas) and stages of life (ashrams)

B. According to the Path of Yoga and initiation by transfer of energy (shaktipat diksha)

C. Datta is the Guru deity. He has to be worshipped in that form itself. He is glorified as ‘Sri Gurudev Datta’ or ‘Sri Gurudatta’. Since Dattatreya is the Supreme Guru the tradition of the human Guru-disciple lineage has not been maintained in the Datta sect.

D. Discipline plays a very important role in the sect.

E. Extremely harsh observances and physical hardships are undertaken.

F. Paduka (wooden footwear) and the holy fig tree (oudumbar) instead of an idol was used for worship. Formerly a single faced idol was used. Presently however three-faced idols are becoming more common.

G. Strict observance of cleanliness and purity (with respect to clothing, utensils)

H. Ritualistic worship of Satyadatta (Satyadattapuja) [ritualistic worship similar to that of Satyanarayan]

I. Mantras of Dattatreya: The following seven mantras of Dattatreya are related to spiritual practice of Tantra.

  • The one letter mantra (ekakshari mantra): ‘Dam (दां)’ is the bija of Datta and also His one letter mantra. The chanda (rhythm) of this mantra is Gayatri, the sage Sadashiv and the deity Dattatreya. This is a saviour mantra and the entire universe is incorporated in it.
  • The six letter mantra (shadakshari mantra): ‘Dam om rhim clim gloum dram (दां ॐ ह्रीं क्‍लीं ग्‍लौं द्रां)’ is the six letter mantra. Chanting of this mantra bestows the supernatural power of yoga.
  • The eight letter mantra (ashtakshari mantra): It goes thus ‘Dam (dra or dram) Dattatreyay namaha [दं (द्रा किंवा द्रां) दत्‍तात्रेयाय नम: ।]’ In this mantra Dattatreyay is the kilak (clue to a mystical puzzle) and the bija and namaha, the energy.
  • The thirteen letter mantra (trayodashakshari mantra): ‘Om am rhim krom ehi Dattatreyay svaha (ॐ आं ह्रीं क्रों एहि दत्‍तात्रेयाय स्‍वाहा ।)’ The chanda (rhythm) of this mantra is Gayatri, the sage Sadashiv, the deity Dattatreya, Om the bijakshar, svaha the energy and Dattatreya the kilak.
  • The sixteen letter mantra (shodashakshari mantra)Om aim krom klim klum rham rhim rhum souhou Dattatreyay svaha (ॐ ऐं क्रों क्‍लीं क्‍लूं ह्रां ह्रीं ह्रूं सौ: दत्‍तात्रेयाय स्‍वाहा ।)’
  • The anushtubh mantra: Dattatreya Hare Krushna unmattananddayak
    Digambar mune bal pishach dnyansagar 

    दत्‍तात्रेय हरे कृष्‍ण उन्‍मत्‍तानन्‍ददायक ।
    दिगंबर मुने बाल पिशाच ज्ञानसागर ।

  • Datta Gayatri: The Gayatri of Dattatreya is akin to that of other deities as:दत्‍तात्रेयाय विद्महे । अवधूताय धीमहि ।
    तन्‍नो दत्‍त: प्रचोदयात्‌ ।। 

    Meaning: We are quite familiar with Dattatreya. We meditate on Avadhut. May that Datta inspire our intellect benevolently. The chanda of this mantra is Gayatri, the sage Shabar and the deity Dattatreya.

  • The problem of ancestors’ souls: Nowadays since most people do not perform rites for the departed (shraddhas), etc. as in the olden days nor undertake spiritual practice, most suffer due to the subtle bodies of ancestors. Only saints can tell whether one is suffering or will suffer due to ancestors. If one is not fortunate enough to meet such a saint then considering that certain suffering is inflicted due to ancestors’ subtle souls one can do spiritual practice as given below. Inability to get married, marital disharmony, difficulty in conceiving a child, miscarriages, mentally retarded or handicapped child or all female progeny, death during childhood, etc. are some of the indications of suffering due to ancestors’ subtle bodies. Poverty, physical illness, etc. can be some other indicators.A. If one has no problems at all, to avoid suffering in the future or if one has a minor problem, one should chant three malas (rosaries) of ‘Sri Gurudev Datta’ everyday. Apart from this to avoid suffering due to destiny as well as to make spiritual progress one should do maximum amount of chanting of the Name of the family deity.B. If the problem is moderate, then along with chanting of the Name of the family deity one should chant atleast six malas of ‘Sri Gurudev Datta’. In addition every Thursday one should visit Sri Datta’s temple and perform five circumambulations and chant one or two malas of ‘Sri Gurudev Datta’ in the temple, for atleast a year. Thereafter one should continue to chant three malas.C. If the problem is severe, a minimum of nine should be chanted everyday. Rituals like Narayanbali, Nagbali, Tripindi shraddha, Kalasarpashanti, etc. should be performed at places where jyotirlingas (the divine phallus as a symbol of Lord Shiva) are situated. In addition to this one should undertake spiritual practice at the seat of worship of Lord Datta or render service unto a saint and acquire His blessings.D. Sri Datta Jayanti (Birthday of Sri Datta): Devotees of Lord Datta celebrate His birthday on the full moon day (pournima) of the Hindu lunar month of Margashirsha.

6. Sects

Nowhere else is worship of Lord Datta as common as in Maharashtra.

6.1 The Nath sect

The Avadhut state as described in the Avadhutgita compiled by Datta, is similar to that in Siddhasiddhant-paddhati compiled by Gorakshanath.

Yogis belonging to the Nath sect are also referred to as Avadhuts. They are beyond restrictions and accept food from all classes of society with the exception of the Shudras (labourers). These yogis emulate pythons and spend all their time in contemplation of the soul. In the Brahmanirvantantra four types of Avadhuts have been described.

  • Brahmavdhut: These worshippers of Brahman are from any stage (ashram) of life.
  • Shaivavdhut: They are the ones who have ritualistically taken the vow of celibacy. They matt their hair, observe silence (moun), and sit beside a fire place. They also smear mud onto their bodies.
  • Viravdhut: Their hair is long and unruly. They wear a necklace of bones or rudrakshas and carry a staff, an axe and a small hourglass shaped drum (damaru). These yogis smear their bodies with holy ash (bhasma) and wear a loin cloth (langoti).
  • Kulavdhut: These yogis are initiated into the Koul sect and are householders.Avadhut ascetics consider Sage Gorakshanath as their Guru. (Refer point ‘Avadhut’.)

6.2 The Mahanubhav sect

In this sect the lineage is of Dattatreya – Changdev Raul – Gundam Raul – Chakradhar. Literature of this sect states that Datta is Brahman.

6.3 The Chaitanya sect

Raghav Chaitanya, the founder of this sect undertook the spiritual practice of Dattatreya at Girnar.

6.4 The Anand sect

Here Datta is considered as the foremost (adi) Guru.

6.5 The Sripad Srivallabh and the Sri Nrusinha Sarasvati sects

Sripad Sri Vallabh
Sri Nursinha Saraswati

Sripad Srivallabh was the first incarnation of Lord Datta. He began worship of Datta in Maharashtra in the 15th century. Sri Nrusinha Sarasvati was His second incarnation. The Sri Gurucharitra gives information on both these incarnations.

  • Prominent saints from the Datta sect : They are Eknath, Manikprabhu, Swami Samarth of Akkalkot, Vasudevanand Sarasvati, Pantamaharaj Balekundrikar (Balekundri is a village near Belgaum in India.)
  • Incarnations: ‘In the historical age the three incarnations assumed were Sripad Srivallabh, Sri Nrusinha Sarasvati and Manikprabhu. The fourth incarnation was Sri Swami Samarth. These four are absolute incarnations but there are several partial incarnations. Sri Vasudevanand Sarasvati (Tembeswami) is included in Them.’To avoid disturbance from people Sri Nrusinha Sarasvati retired to the Kardali (the plantain tree) forest after informing His disciples. When performing austerities there, ants covered His entire body with anthills. Several years later when a woodcutter was cutting wood in the forest his axe lightly struck the anthill. Seeing the blade of the axe stained with blood frightened him and he dug up the anthill. Nrusinha Sarasvati emerged from it as Akkalkot Swami. The Swami used to live at the present hermitage (math) below the holy fig (oudumbar) tree at Akkalkot.Information on some of the main incarnations of this sect is given in 9.0
  • Incantation of the Name: ‘Digambara Digambara Sripad Vallabh Digambara. Come quickly O Lord Sri Nrusinha Sarasvati Digambara (दिगंबरा  दिगंबरा श्रीपादवल्‍लभ दिगंबरा । धावा पावा त्‍वरा करा श्री नृसिंह सरस्‍वती दिगंबरा ।।)’ is one of the incantations of this sect.

6.6 Others

Jains worship Dattatreya in the form of Neminath while Muslims remain in the attire of a mendicant. A mendicant is always a devotee of Lord Datta.

7. Main places of pilgrimage (tirthakshetras)

  • 1. Mahur: Kinvat taluka, Nanded district, Maharashtra.
  • 2. Girnar: Near Junagad, Sourashtra. This has 10,000 steps.
  • 3. Karanja: The birthplace of Sri Nrusinha Sarasvati. It is known as Lad – Karanje. Brahmanand Sarasvati of Kashi first built a temple of Lord Datta here.
  • 4. Oudumbar: In the four months of chaturmas of the Hindu lunar calendar Sri Nrusinha Sarasvati lived here. This place is situated at a distance of 10 kilometres from Bhilvadi railway station in Maharashtra, on the banks of the river Krushna.
  • 5. Narsobavadi: This is located in Maharashtra. Sri Nrusinha Sarasvati lived here for twelve years. The confluence of the two rivers Krushna and Panchaganga occurs here. This is the place which inspired Tembeswami.
  • 6. Gangapur: This is situated in Karnataka on the Pune – Raychur highway. The confluence of the rivers Bhima and Amaraja occurs here. It is here that Sri Nrusinha Sarasvati spent twenty-three years and carried out His entire mission. Later He proceeded to Sri Shailya from here.
  • 7. Kuravpur: This is an island in the waters of the Krushna river in Karnataka. One can reach this destination by road from Raychur till Palladini (Kurguddi). This is where Sripad Srivallabh undertook His mission.
  • 8. Pithapur: The birthplace of Sripad Srivallabh, in Andhra Pradesh. It was Tembeswami who brought this place into the limelight.
  • 9. Varanasi : Here, the Dattatreya hermitage (math) is situated on the Narad ghat. The family members of Sri Nrusinha Sarasvati who still live here have the surname, Kale. Later, the name Kale was changed to Kaliya. Even today a garden and a lane named Kaliya exist here.
  • 10. Sri Shailya: Located close to Hyderabad, Sri Nrusinha Sarasvati travelled to this place.
  • 11. Bhattagaon (Bhadgaon): This is at a distance of 35 kilometres from Kathmandu.
  • 12. Panchaleshvar: District Bid, Maharashtra.

8. Main holy texts

1. Datta Puran: This Puran has the following three parts.

  • A. Part of ritualistic worship (karmakand)
  • B. Part of mental worship (upasanakand) : H.H. Vasudevanand Sarasvati (Tembeswami) has translated this into Marathi. It is called ‘Dattamahatmya’.
  • C. Part of spiritual knowledge (dnyankand) : This is referred to as ‘Tripurasundarirahasya’.

2. Avadhutgita: This is one of the main holy texts of the Nath sect. This Gita was preached by Dattatreya to Kartikeya.

3. ‘Sri Dattaprabodh’ by Viththal Anantsut Kavadibova

4. Sri Gurucharitra: This describes the glory of the Guru and the code of conduct of this sect. The pattern is as follows – chapters 1 to 24 : Part of spiritual knowledge (dnyankand), 25-37 : Part of ritualistic worship (karmakand) and 38-53 : Part of devotion (after Self-realisation)[bhaktikand].

9. Some prominent incarnations

Name of the
Name of
the father
Name of
the mother
Period of
Site of
the mission
1. Sripad
Apalraj Sumatibai Shake
At 7
2. Sri
Madhavrao Ambasati Shake
At 12
3. Sri
Bayamma Shake
Maniknagar In child-
4. Sri
Unknown Unknown Unknown Unknown Akkalkot
5. Sri
Unknown Unknown Unknown Pathari Shirdi Unknown
6. Sri
Parshuram Anandibai Shake
Mhapan Kankavli
At 22
|| Sri Gurudev Datta ||

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