Puranic encyclopaedia

by Vettam Mani | 1975 | 609,556 words | ISBN-10: 0842608222

This page describes the Story of Dattatreya included the Puranic encyclopaedia by Vettam Mani that was translated into English in 1975. The Puranas have for centuries profoundly influenced Indian life and Culture and are defined by their characteristic features (panca-lakshana, literally, ‘the five characteristics of a Purana’).

Story of Dattātreya

(datta) A hermit famous in the purāṇas.


Anasūyā, the wife of hermit Atri gave birth to Dattātreya. But Dattātreya was the incarnation of Mahāviṣṇu.

There is a story in Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa how Mahāviṣṇu came to incarnate as Dattātreya.

Once there was a hermit called Aṇimāṇḍavya (Māṇḍavya). While the hermit was engaged in silent meditation, some robbers passed by that way. The King’s men who were chasing the robbers, came to the hermit and asked him about the robbers. The hermit did not break the silence. The King’s men, thinking the hermit to be the thief bound his hands and legs and took him to the palace. The King ordered Māṇḍavya to be killed by piercing his body with a trident. Accordingly a trident was posted on a hill far away and Māṇḍavya was seated on the tip of it. Māṇḍavya lay there in agony.

It was at this time that Śīlavatī, famous for her conjugal fidelity, went to the house of a harlot, carrying her husband Ugraśravas on her shoulder. When they passed by that way Ugraśravas scolded Aṇimāṇḍavya; getting angry at this Aṇimāṇḍavya cursed Ugraśravas that he would get his head broken and die before the sun-rise. Sīlavatī became very sorry when she heard the curse and she also cursed. "Let the sun not rise tomorrow". The sun did not rise next day. Everything in the world was in chaos. The devas were flurried. They went to Brahmā. Brahmā took them to Śiva. They could not find a solution. So all of them approached Mahāviṣṇu. The Trimūrtis (three gods) told the devas that the problem would be solved, and the devas returned. Brahmā, Viṣṇu and Maheśvara went to Śīlavatī. Before seeing Śīlavatī, they went to Anasūyā the wife of Atri and sought her help to persuade Śīlavatī to recall her curse. Thus Anasūyā and the Trimūrtis approached Śīlavatī and spoke compassionate and consolatory words. At last Śīlavatī recalled the curse. The Trimūrtis convinced Śīlavatī, that Ugraśravas would not die. The pleased Trimūrtis asked Anasūyā to ask for any boon. She replied that she did not want any boon except that the Trimūrtis should take birth as her sons. Accordingly Mahāviṣṇu took birth as Dattātreya, Śiva as Durvāsas and Brahmā as Candra, in the womb of Anasūyā. This is how Dattātreya was born.* Dattātreya did penance from his childhood and became a hermit. (Brahmāṇḍa Purāṇa, Chapters 39 to 44).

Kārtavīryārjuna and Dattātreya.

When Kārtavīryārjuna became King Dattātreya had become very famous. Kārtavīryārjuna wanted to obtain supernatural powers. So he called the hermit Garga and asked for his advice. Garga advised him that Dattātreya was the incarnation of Viṣṇu and that he would grant his wishes. So Kārtavīryārjuna and his wife came to the river Narmadā, and taking bath in the river, began to worship Dattātreya, who was doing penance closeby. Dattātreya was pleased and went to Kārtavīryārjuna and asked him what his desire was. He requested for thousand hands and to be a youth for ever, and such other things. Dattātreya granted his wishes. After that Kārtavīryārjuna would very often go to the hermit Dattātreya for his advice. (Brahma Purāṇa, Chapter 44).

Cursing Rāvaṇa.

Once Rāvaṇa went to the hermitage of Dattātreya. The hermit had placed a waterpot purified by reciting spells and incantations. Rāvaṇa stole that waterpot. When the hermit knew this, he cursed Rāvaṇa saying, "Since the water, which was evoked by spells and incantations, has fallen on your head, Monkeys will pollute your head by treading on it." (Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa, Yuddha Kāṇḍa).

Exhortation to the Sādhyas.

Mention is made in Mahābhārata, Udyoga Parva, Chapter 36, Stanza 4, that the hermit Dattātreya gave exhortations to the Sādhyas (the sons of Dharmadeva by his wife Sādhyā).

5) A boon for the birth of Nahuṣa. See Nahuṣa.

*) Dattātreya is known by the name 'Datta' also in the Purāṇas.

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