Symbolically Lord Dattatreya is depicted with three heads, six hands, four dogs, standing in front of a cow and tree. In his hands He holds a drum (damaru), discus like weapon (chakra), conch shell (sankh), rosary (japa mala), water vessel (kamandala) and a trident (trisula).
Three heads represent Brahma Tatwa, Vishnu Tatwa and Shiva Tatwa. All powerful creative cause is Brahma, sustaining energy is Vishnu and annihilating energy is Shiva (Srishti, Sthithi and Laya energies) are the three heads.
Dattatreya is considered as the Grand Teacher or “Guru principle” in the universe
Dattatreya Jayanti or Datta Jayanti is the celebration of the birth of Dattatreya, who is revered as the highest of yogis and of monastic life.
The Jayanti falls on the full moon day of the month of Margashirsha.
Dattatreya, also known as Avadhut (one who is free from worldly feelings and obligations) and Digambar, is a form of Lord Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.
When Anasuya, wife of Atri maharshi performed severe penance to have a son with the qualities of Lords Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the lords decide to test Anasuya’s virtuousness. They appeared before her as ascetics and asked her to give them alms in a naked state.
Since guests are believed to be a form of God, Anasuya is unable to refuse them. She sprinkles water on them and chants a mantra, turning them into babies at which time, she breastfeeds them naked.
On his return, Atri maharshi transforms the three babies into one with three heads and six arms. The trinity revert to their forms and offer their blessings to the couple.
The maharshi and Anasuya make a wish for the baby and their wish is fulfilled in the form of Dattatreya.
Although he carries the qualities of the three Lords, Dattatreya is considered an avatar of Vishnu and his brothers Chandra and sage Durvasa are believed to be forms of Lords Brahma and Shiva.
The cow standing with Dattatreya is the kamadhenu and stands for creation and the earth. The four dogs stand for the four Vedas. Holding the Sudarshan chakra, Dattatreya controls time and is beyond time.
The conch stands for the eternal Aum and his japa mala with its beads contains all the mantras, the damaru contains all shastras and the kamandal offers food and water. The trishul indicates that he has transcended the sattva, rajas and tamas gunas.
Dattatreya Jayanti is celebrated with fervour in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and parts of Gujarat. Dattatreya is worshipped in the form of his footwear, the padukas, particularly in the datta kshetras.
People have an early bath and undertake a fast. After worshipping Dattatreya, they meditate and sing bhajans. Some read the Avadhuta Gita and Jivanmukta Gita, others also read the Datta Prabodh and Datta Mahatmya. Avadhuta Gita contains the secrets of Vedanta which Dattatreya revealed to Lord Subrahmanya.
Devotees recite Shri Gurucharitra seven days prior to Datta Jayanti. Before beginning the worship, devotees apply two vertical lines on the forehead, symbolic of Vishnu worship. The ring finger of the right hand is used to apply the tilak. This is meant to awaken the spiritual side and bring concentration to the devotee.
Sandalwood paste is applied to the deity, again using the ring finger of the right hand. Turmeric and vermilion are applied to Dattatreya’s feet. This is done using the ring finger and thumb and is believed to activate the anahat chakra which enhances the feeling of devotion.
Jasmine and tuberose flowers are offered at the feet of the deity. The flowers should be in multiples of seven and it is beneficial if they are in diamond pattern. Circumambulation around the deity is done in multiples of seven.
Agarbatti is lit, particularly with fragrance of sandal, kewda or ketaki and amber. Beginners of spiritual practice can light two incense sticks for greater benefit. The incense stick must be held by the right index finger and thumb and must be moved three times in clockwise direction in front of the deity.
Chanting the mantra ‘Shree Gurudev Datta’ on the day of Datta Jayanti is believed to carry great potency. It is recommended that devotees chant the mantra as long as they can throughout the day.
2. Narasimha Saraswati who had lived during the 14th-15th centuries is said to be the second avatar of Dattatreya, according to Shri Guru Charitra.
3. Shri Manikya Prabhu is said to be the next avatar and had lived during the 19th century.
4. Shri Swami Samarth Maharaj of Akkalkota in Maharashtra is the next avatar and lived during the 19th century.
5. Some believe that Shirdi Sai Baba who lived during the 19th-20th centuries is the fifth avatar.
6. Shri Vasudevananda Saraswati ‘Tembe Swami’ Maharaj of Maangaon who lived during the 19th-20th centuries and Shri Gajanan Maharaj of Shegaon of the 19th-20th centuries are also believed to be his avatars.