Dattatreya and His 24 Gurus (A detailed Analysis)


From the readings and sapthahams and Navahams I attended in Mumbai, I could gather some knowledge which I would like to share with my readers who have always evinced and expressed great interest and inquisitiveness to acquire the knowledge potential. I too strongly believe that the knowledge we gather from books and discourses and even discussions with knowledgeable souls should be shared with others from time to time. Otherwise, it remains futile like the wealth with a miser which is of no use. I am sure these stories and articles which contain good morals will be more helpful particularly, to the younger generation to instil in them a passion for learning our cultural heritage!

Here in these series of articles and stories, I wish to start with some striking stories which I recollect from Bhagavatham etc and I wish to begin with:


DATTATREYA is considered as a paradigmatic Sage(an outstanding exemplary sage) as well as one of the Lords of Yoga venerated as a Hindu Deity. In Maharashtra, Goa, A P, Telengana, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh He is worshipped as syncretic deity, considered to be a combined -incarnation of the 3 Gods Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, commonly known as TRIMURTI (TRINITY) collectively. Several Upanishads are dedicated to Him and are texts of the Vedanta Yoga tradition in Hinduism. One of the most important texts of Hinduism viz., AVADHUTA GITA (SONG OF THE FREE SOUL) is attributed to DATTATREYA.

It is believed that Dattatreya inspired and enthused many monastic movements in SHAIVANISM, VAISHNAVISM AND SHAKTHISM. His pursuit of single life, kindness to all, sharing of knowledge and meaning and purpose of life during His travel is reverently mentioned in the poems composed by saint and poet Tukaram of the Bhakti Movement.


According to mythology, DATTATREYA was born to an Indian housewife ANASUYA and her husbandand Vedic sage ATRI who had made the largest spiritual contributions to Rigveda. It is said that they lived in MAHUR NANDED District in Maharashtra. There are different versions about the place of birth such as Kashmir Jungles near AMARNATH TEMPLE.

He is described as an exceptional and extraordinary insights and knowledge and also praised as a spiritual Guru as well as an incarnation or avatar of VISHNU in the Puranas. He is stated to have renounced the world and left his home at an early ageto lead a monastic life. According to another myth he meditated under water for a long time. He did penance (TAPAS) for 12000 years on a lonely peak at GIRNAR (Junagad in Gujarat). He used to take alms for his daily food in A P.


Appearance of DATHTTREYA varies with various believers. A typical icon of DATTATREYA with Marathi speaking people has 3 heads corresponding to BRAHMA VISHNU AND MAHESHA(SHIVA), carrying JAPAMALA(ROSARY) AND A WATER POT(KAMANDALAM), middle pair of hands holding a mini drum (DAMERU) and a TRIDENT(TRISHUL) and the top 2 hands have a CONCH (SHANK)and a SPINNING WHEEL. But in medieval temples, the idol is shown with just one head and two hands in many states of India.


It is mentioned in the annals of mythology, that sage DATTATREYA, drew inspiration aplenty from nature to select His Gurus or spiritual masters which transformed His thoughts and attitude towards life. His life became a message to the world. Here in this article, we can observe that His thought-provoking observations have been chronicled in history to be useful to the future generations.


One day, a king visited His Ashram(Hermitage) to meet His father sage, but as he was away, he had to speak to Him for some time. While talking to Him, he could discern that there was some ineffable or inexplicable ecstasy flashing on His face. The king could understand that the boy was gifted with extraordinary wisdom and started interacting with him. Then the king having impressed with His blissful appearance, asked Him who His Guru was! When the king also asked Him whether He learned everything from His parents, he replied that one has to learn from everyone and everything. Then the boy also instantly replied that he had 24 Gurus and not one alone. The king was surprised on hearing about the 24 gurus and at that moment at his request, the boy started explaining to the king about His 24 Gurus.

Now let us peep into the objects He selected as His Gurusand analyse every one briefly and see how it will help us to live a perfect, peaceful and meaningful life. It is believed that he had 24 GURUS which He had selected during His long journey of life. So, let us discover those Gurus one by one so that we can learn who they were and what were their enamouring qualities. The king kept on asking and Dattatreya went on answering to the point:

1.MOTHER EARTH-is my first Guru who taught me not only to hold those who trample me, scratch me and hurt me but also to give them the best without any spirit of vengeance.

2.WATER-is my second Guru as it contains life and purity. It cleanses whatever it touches and provides life to everyone who drinks it. Water flows unceasingly and when it stopes it becomes stagnant. So, keep on moving is the lesson I learned from water to be active in life. Never get stuck up anywhere as it will make you lazy and lethargic.

3. FIRE- is my third Guru. Fire burns everything and transforms into flame. By consuming dead- logs it generates warmth and light. Thus, I learned how to absorb everything that life brings and how to turn it into flame. This flame enlightens our life and that brightness you can harness for others’ wellbeing!

  1. WIND-is my fourth Guru. Wind always keeps moving unceasingly touching everything but never gets attached to any object. The lesson is not to prefer flowers over thorns or friends over foes. Like the wind one has to provide freshness to all without getting attached to anything.

5.SPACE- is my fifth Guru. Space means SKY or AAKASAM. It provides room for sun, moon and stars untouched and unconfined. Similarly, we too should have rightful room for everything but, they shouldn’t be allowed to overpower our consciousness.

6.MOON-is my sixth Guru The speciality of Moon is that it waxes and wanes, but never loses its essence or shape. I learned from the process of waxing and waning of moon that rise and fall, pleasure and pain, loss and gain are simply different phases of life and one should never lose awareness of the true self.

7.SUN-is my seventh Guru. The Sun draws water from everything and transforms it into clouds and distributes it in the form of rain without any bias. The rain falls on forests, valleys, deserts, oceans and villages and cities equally. Similarly, one should gather knowledge from all sources and transform such knowledge into practical wisdom and distribute among all without any discrimination.

8.FLOCK OF PIGIONS- is my eighth Guru. When one pigeon fell into the hunter’s net and cried in despair, other pigeons tried to rescue it but got caught in the process. I learned that even a positive reaction out of attachment and emotion can endanger our life.

9.PYTHON-is my nineth Guru. It catches its prey and eats it but, doesn’t hunt again for a long time. It taught me that once, one’s need has been met, he must be fully contented and shouldn’t wander after objects of his desire and make his life totally miserable.

10.OCEAN- is my tenth Guru. Ocean is the repository of all waters. It receives water from all the rivers and tributaries, but never overflows its boundaries. Even if I  receive kicks and blows in life, I should maintain my mental balance and discipline always.

11.MOTH- is my eleventh Guru. Allured by the brightness of fire and flame, the moth falls into it and sacrifices its life. It taught me that once I see the dawn, I must overcome my fear and plunge into the flame of knowledge to be absorbed and transformed into lessons for the benefit of the world.

12.BUMBLE BEE- is my twelfth Guru. The Bumble Bee sucks the tiniest drops of nectar from the flowers after which it sings and hovers around the flowers dancing and expressing its joy and ecstasy. Moreover, it pollinates the plants and help them prosper by flying from flower to flower so freely. I learned from the Bumble Bee that we should take only a little from nature and enrich the source of my benefit cheerfully. It means that we should also return or give back more than what we take from it.

  1. HONEY BEE- is my thirteenth Guru. The Honey Bee always collects more honey than it needs. It collects nectar from different flowers swallows it and converts into honey and stores it in the beehives. It consumes only a bit from it and shares the rest with others. Similarly, I should gather useful knowledge conducive to growth from all my teachers and share with others.
  2. WILD ELEPHANT-is my fourteenth Guru. Once, a wild elephant was being trapped by using a tamed female elephant as the bait near to the pit dug for catching it. The wild elephant smelling the presence of a female in the vicinity, emerged from the forest and fell into a deep pit very cunningly concealed with branches and dead leaves to appear normal. The elephant taught me to use the sensory organs very cautiously to protect ourselves from the worldly passions and pleasures which harm our aim and damage the very purpose of our life. The mind gets trapped and enslaved however we resist back.
  3. THE DEER-is my fifteenth Guru. The deer with its keen sense of hearing, listens to all noises. It is lured by the melody of the hunter’s flute and gets trapped. Similarly, we also fall preys to our senses and endanger our life.
  4. THE FISH-is my sixteenth Guru. The fish which swallows a baited worm gets hooked and caught by the fisherman. This world is also like a bait which attracts everyone and people get trapped. So, we should always be wary about the attractions and live cautiously.
  5. A PROSTITUTE-A prostitute knows well that neither she loves her customers nor do they love her at any time. Still, she receives them and entertains them withoutany emotional attachment.She is enacting this drama for the sake of her own survival. A similar relation exists between the human beings and the world. The world is enjoying us and the return is inadequate always. So, we should learn to live with dignity and self-respect without expecting anything in return from the world either material or internal satisfaction. I found out that we should go deep within and find satisfaction within ourselves.
  6. A LITTLE BIRD-A little bird is my eighteenth Guru. A bird with a worm in its beak. The other birds also flew around the bird to snatch away the prey. They stopped flying around, only when the bird dropped the worm from its beak. Thus, I learned from the bird that the secret of survival lies in total renunciation and keeping nothing in possession. Others always try to take away our possessions which will leave us without anything.
  7. A BABY-is my nineteenth Guru. A baby cries for milk only when it is hungry. It stops crying when it takes milk and its stomach is full and hunger is gone. It doesn’t take any more milk even if the mother compels. The baby teaches us that we should take only what is required from the given quantity and turn our face.

20.AYOUNG WOMAN-is my twentieth Guru. When I asked for alms, she wanted me to wait for a while. When she was preparing food, her bracelets made lot of noise. She removed one and still the noise continued. So, she removed the next one, but the rest of the bangles made noise and therefore, she removed everything till there was only one at last. When it was single, there was no further noise. Thus, she understood that whereever there is a crowd, there is noise,disagreement argument dissension and discontent. One should realize that the pleasure of real peace of mind emanates from solitude and nothing else.

21.A SNAKE- is my twenty first Guru. The snake doesn’t make any house on its own but stays in the holes made/or abandoned by birds or other creatures. Thereafter it moves out to another place. I learned from the snake to adjust myself to the environment and enjoy the resources and bounties of nature without encumbering myself with a permanent home. It is the basic nature of all creatures to live there for some time and abandon it for another dwelling place. I therefore understood that there are plenty of places in the world and I should keep moving after resting for some time.

22.AN ARROW MAKER-is my twenty second Guru. The lesson I learned from the arrow maker was that whatever be the happenings around, it doesn’t detract his attention, but does his job with utmost concentration. The king and his entire army passed by marching, but he didn’t even raise his head and see what it was but continued his work with rapt attention. I learned from him that whatever be the attractions and detractions,we should not divert our attention and be determined to achieve perfection in our work. The more we absorb, the more we get subtle awareness.

23.A LITTLE SPIDER-is my twenty third Guru. The spider weaves its web and stays there. When a larger spider or any other creature chases it, it rushes to take shelter in the woven web without becoming its prey. I learned that our own actions sometimes create webs for ourselves.The mightierwill swallow the weaker ones. There is no safety in the complicated webs of our actions.

  1. A WORM-Is my twenty forth Guru. The worm was caught by a song bird and it kept in its nest. As the bird started singing, the worm became absorbed in the song and lost its awareness of its peril. Watching the tiny creature becoming more absorbed in the song of the song bird even in the face of death, it reminded me that i too must develop the art of listening so that i may become absorbed in the eternal sound or NADA that is pulsating within me.

Listening to DATTATREYA, the king realized that this young sage was a man of great wisdom and amazing knowledge which flowed from His experience and determination to keep the goal of life firmly fixed in the awareness and ability to learn from everything he observed. The nature is a perennial and potential teacher and we can learn many things if we observe closely. The king could learn a great deal from DATTATREYA and returned with the self-content that he could learn many hitherto unknown things from DATTATRYA, THE GREAT SAGE!

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