Guru Dattatreya is a Hindu God who is an incarnation of the Divine Trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. One can say that Guru Dattatreya is - Creation, Preservation, and Destruction, all in ONE. The word Datta means "Given", Datta is called so because the divine trinity have "given" themselves in the form of a son to the sage couple Atri and Anasuya. He is the son of Atri, hence the name "Atreya". In the Natha tradition, Dattatreya is recognized as an Avatar or incarnation of the Lord Shiva and as the Adi-Guru (First Teacher) of the Adi-Nath sampradaya of the Nathas. The creative, the preservative and the disintegrating powers of God are supposed to be manifest in the personality of Lord Dattatreya. The name or word 'Dattatreya' is constituted of two terms, 'Datta' and 'Atreya'. In Sanskrit, 'Datta' means one who is bestowed as a gift, and 'Atreya' is an honorific which is derived from the name of a great sage called Atri. The son of Atri is Atreya. A descendent of Atri also is Atreya. One who is bestowed as a divine child on the great sage Atri, by the Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva themselves, is Dattatreya.
Birth Of Lord Dattatreya
Guru Dattatreya is the son of the sage Atri and his wife Anasuya. The sage practiced his penance in a severe manner and his power grew so much that ultimately flames began to emerge from his jatas.
Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, greatly pleased at his tapa made their appearance before him and asked him as to what he desired. On his replying that he wanted nothing more than a son of divine powers, having the qualities or 'gunas? of all the three of them, they promised him that in the second part or yuga of the Vaivaswat manvantar, children would be born to him who would be incarnations of themselves
Lord Dattatreya is also, therefore, known as Anasuyanandana, the darling of the great queen of chastity, Anasuya Devi. The Name of Dattatreya, the great sage, is a by-word in all religious circles in India. In certain parts of Gujarat and in Maharashtra, the worship of Dattatreya is pre-eminent. It is believed by the followers of the tradition that Dattatreya is in flesh and blood even today. He is not merely a dead-and-gone saint and sage of ancient pre-historic times. Devotees believe honestly that he is physically alive even today and he is supposed to be having his abode in those holy places in the western part of India such as Gangapur in Maharashtra. There is a famous hill in Saurashtra, Mount Girnar, which is dedicated to the adoration and worship of Lord Dattatreya.
Lord Dattatreya is not merely a divine incarnation like Bhagavan Sri Krishna and Sri Rama, but, unlike them, He is held in high esteem as a visible personality, physically available to us for our Darshana, if only we would have the honesty of belief and devotion at his sacred feet. There are wonderful sidelights given to us of the personality Bhagavan Dattatreya.
Shri Dattatreya or Datta Guru, an incarnation who came to light the lamp of wisdom among the people. Shri Dattatreya is a splendorous form. His face radiates all wisdom and draws us away from the lures of the world. Though He is the Supreme Lord of this universe, yet He is a total and supreme recluse. Though He moves from place to place, His favorite abode is the Holy Audambar tree (A type of fig type, Ficus glomerate). He has matted hair on His head. His body is ever smeared with holy ashes and He wears tiger-skin for His garment. A cow and four dogs are always with Him as His constant companions. He is an 'Avadhoot', ever anchored in Spirit, but always overflowing with compassion for all the beings and the entire creation. He is the embodiment of total Godhead. All the aspects of Godhead are fully manifest in Him. His faces and form are ever radiant with peace and divine charm.
The Cow, which is always with Him, represents the Mother Earth and Dharma. She is the wish fulfilling cow 'Kamadhenu'.
The four dogs symbolise the four Vedas – the external repositories of Spiritual Wisdom.
The trident indicates that He has transcended the three gunas, which constitute the illusory world: Sattva-illumination, Rajas-activity and Tamas-inertia.
The 'Sudharshana chakra' , disc indicates that He is beyond the cycles of time i.e. the past, present and future and His holding of 'chakra' means He is the controller of time.
The conch represents the eternal sound ‘AUM’ – which is the manifestation of the Spirit. It is also the life principle in us and the cosmos.
The 'bhasma' ashes indicated His 'Vairaagya' dispassion as well as His purity. Ashes indicate the evanescent nature of all created nature of all created objects and the ultimate state of all matter.
He always carries a begging bowl so as to teach us the lesson that we will have to share our wealth and food with others.
The japa-mala, rosary He wears reminds us that our primary duty is chanting the sacred name of the Lord and meditating on the feet of the Lord, and our redemption depends on this discipline alone.
Shri Dattatreya, in order to bless His devotees and the righteous ones, wanders about in the guise of a random guest at the lunch hour. That's why it is said that a random guest has to be treated as the very embodiment of Lord Dattaterya.