Who Is Dattatreya?

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Dattatreya Definition

Dattatreya is a revered figure in Hinduism, particularly in the tradition of Advaita Vedanta.

He is often depicted as a sage with three heads and six hands, symbolizing his association with the Trimurti – the divine trinity of Brahma (the creator), Vishnu (the preserver), and Shiva (the destroyer).

a statue of Dattatreya with an orange halo

Dattatreya Deep Dive

Mythological Origins

Dattatreya’s origins are rooted in Hindu mythology and various ancient texts. He is sometimes described as the son of the sage Atri and his wife Anasuya. Dattatreya is believed to be an incarnation of the divine, born to fulfill a specific purpose.

The Guru of Gurus

Dattatreya is considered the “Guru of Gurus” and is seen as a universal teacher who imparts wisdom and knowledge to seekers. He is often depicted as having received teachings from 24 gurus, which included both animate and inanimate entities like animals, birds, and even elements of nature.

Syncretic Nature

Dattatreya’s worship often transcends traditional boundaries and sects within Hinduism. He is revered by followers of various paths, including both monastic and householder traditions. His syncretic nature represents the unity of different spiritual paths.

Spiritual Teachings

Dattatreya’s teachings emphasize detachment from material desires, self-realization, and the pursuit of spiritual knowledge. He is associated with the concept of “Avadhuta,” a state of transcendence beyond societal norms.

a statue of Dattatreya covered in beads

Symbols and Attributes

Dattatreya is often depicted with three heads, representing the Trimurti, and six hands holding various symbolic objects. These attributes vary but may include a conch, a discus, a trident, a begging bowl, a kamandalu (water pot), and japa beads.

Places of Worship

Temples dedicated to Dattatreya can be found across India, particularly in the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh. The most famous shrine is the Gangapur Dattatreya Temple in Maharashtra.

Bhakti Movement

Dattatreya is also revered within the Bhakti movement, a devotional movement that emphasizes a personal and emotional connection with the divine. Bhakti saints like Sant Eknath and Sant Tukaram from Maharashtra have expressed deep devotion to Dattatreya.


Dattatreya Jayanti, the birth anniversary of Dattatreya, is celebrated by devotees with enthusiasm and devotion. It falls on the full moon day of the Margashirsha month (November-December).

In essence, Dattatreya represents a unifying figure in Hinduism, the embodiment of spiritual teachings and the pursuit of self-realization. His diverse teachings and inclusive nature continue to inspire seekers on their spiritual journeys.

a full moon in a purple sky with clouds

Yoga Texts Associated with Dattatreya

There are several yoga texts ascribed to Dattatreya, including:

Dattatreya Yogashastra

A comprehensive treatise on yoga, covering topics such as the philosophy of yoga, different types of yoga, and specific yoga practices of yoga.

The Dattatreya Yogashastra is considered one of the foundational texts in the tradition of the Nath Sampradaya, a lineage of yogis and mystics in India.

This text is part of the broader body of teachings associated with Dattatreya, which emphasize spiritual wisdom, self-realization, and yogic practices for attaining liberation.

Dattatreya Yogasamhita

A shorter text focusing on the practice of hatha yoga. The Dattatreya Yogasamhita is part of the Nath tradition and is also considered a fundamental work in the lineage of the Nath yogis.

The text focuses on a wide range of yogic practices, philosophical teachings, and spiritual insights.

Dattatreya Vijaya

This text is a narrative of Dattatreya’s life, teachings, and interactions with other sages and beings. It presents a holistic view of his philosophy and practices.

Similarly to the texts mentioned above, the Dattatreya Vijaya is considered significant within the context of the Nath traditions.

It’s important to note that attributions and authorship of ancient texts can sometimes be complex and uncertain, and variations in texts and interpretations may exist within different lineages and traditions.

a little sanskrit book in hands

Hindu Texts Associated with Dattatreya

Dattatreya is mentioned in various Hindu texts, including scriptures, puranas, and texts associated with different traditions. Below are some of the Hindu texts where Dattatreya is mentioned:


Dattatreya is mentioned in the Mahabharata as one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu. His story is narrated in the “Adi Parva” (Book of the Beginning), where he is born as the son of the sage Atri and his wife Anasuya.


Dattatreya’s stories and teachings are found in several Puranas, which are ancient Hindu texts containing myths, legends, and genealogies of deities and sages. He is often mentioned in the “Bhagavata Purana,” “Skanda Purana,” “Garuda Purana,” and others.

Avadhuta Gita

The “Avadhuta Gita” is a text attributed to Dattatreya. It is a conversation between Dattatreya and King Yadu, where Dattatreya imparts profound spiritual teachings on the nature of reality and self-realization.

Jivanmukta Gita

Another text attributed to Dattatreya, the “Jivanmukta Gita,” focuses on the characteristics and experiences of a liberated being (jivanmukta) and provides guidance for spiritual seekers.

Dattatreya Upanishads

Various Upanishads are attributed to Dattatreya, such as the “Dattatreya Upanishad.” These Upanishads contain teachings on different aspects of spirituality and meditation.

Tripura Rahasya

While not directly attributed to Dattatreya, the “Tripura Rahasya” is a significant text that includes teachings attributed to him. It’s a dialogue between Dattatreya and Parashurama, discussing spiritual truths and paths to realization.

Nath Sampradaya Texts

Dattatreya holds a central place in the Nath Sampradaya tradition. Texts like the “Dattatreya Yogashastra” elaborate on his teachings and practices within this lineage.

It’s important to note that while Dattatreya is mentioned in various texts, the exact details of his stories and teachings might vary. He is revered by different branches of Hinduism, including Advaita Vedanta, Bhakti, and various yogic traditions.

Dattatreya’s teachings emphasize the unity of all paths to self-realization and the importance of transcending ego to attain spiritual liberation.

a woman in water looking out at a swirling vortex with the galaxy in

Dattatreya In Your Life

Integrating the teachings of Dattatreya into everyday life can offer valuable insights and guidance for personal growth, self-realization, and spiritual development. Below you can find some suggestions to incorporate Dattatreya’s teachings into your daily life:

1. Detachment from Materialism

Dattatreya’s philosophy emphasizes detachment from material desires and possessions. Practice minimalism and simplicity, focusing on what truly brings joy and value to your life while letting go of excessive attachment to material things.

2. Seeking Wisdom

Emulate Dattatreya’s attitude of being a perpetual student and seeker of wisdom. Cultivate a thirst for knowledge, read spiritual texts, attend lectures, and engage in self-study to expand your understanding of life’s deeper truths.

3. Learning from Nature

Dattatreya learned from animals, birds, and elements of nature. Spend time outdoors, observe the natural world, and derive insights from its simplicity, resilience, and interconnectedness.

grass at sunset in the mountains

4. Embracing Diversity

Dattatreya’s three heads symbolize the unity of different paths to the divine. Embrace diversity in your interactions with people of varying backgrounds, beliefs, and lifestyles. Recognize the shared essence that unites all beings.

5. Renunciation of Ego

Practice humility and selflessness. Let go of the ego’s grip on self-identity and status. Approach challenges with a mindset of surrender and acceptance, allowing room for growth and transformation.

6. Mindful Consumption

Dattatreya’s ascetic lifestyle highlights the importance of mindful consumption. Consume food, resources, and entertainment with awareness and gratitude.

7. Self-Realization

Reflect on your true nature and essence. Meditate on the concept of the Atman (the individual soul) and its connection to the universal consciousness. Explore techniques such as self-inquiry to deepen self-awareness.

a man meditating cross legged looking at a view

8. Service and Compassion

Dattatreya’s teachings emphasize compassion and service. Engage in acts of kindness, volunteering, and helping others in need. Approach your service with a heart free from ego and expectations.

9. Regular Contemplation

Dedicate time each day for reflection and contemplation. Set aside a few minutes for self-inquiry, meditation, or simply sitting in silence to connect with your inner wisdom.

10. Practice Non-Judgment

Dattatreya’s teachings encourage non-judgment and acceptance. Practice observing your thoughts without attaching labels of “good” or “bad.” Cultivate an attitude of non-reactive awareness.

11. Balancing Responsibilities

Like Dattatreya, balance your responsibilities as a part of society with your spiritual pursuits. Find harmony between your worldly commitments and your inner journey.

12. Spiritual Community

Engage with a like-minded spiritual community. Join study groups, attend workshops, or participate in discussions that explore the yogic teachings and their practical application.

By integrating these teachings into your daily life, you can foster a deeper connection with your inner self, cultivate mindfulness, and move toward a more balanced and fulfilling existence. Dattatreya’s wisdom serves as a guide to harmonize spiritual growth with the realities of the modern world.

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To go deep and expand your yogic knowledge, access our free Yoga Terms Encyclopedia, where we host a profound wealth of ancient and timeless yogic wisdom in an accessible modern format.

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Amy is a yoga teacher and practitioner based in Brighton.

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