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Dattatreya or Datta is a Hindu deity encompassing the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, collectively known as Trimurti. The name Dattatreya can be divided into two words - "Datta" and "Atreya" referring to the sage Atri, his physical father.

In the Nath tradition, Dattatreya is recognized as an Avatar or incarnation of Shiva and as the Adi-Guru (First Teacher) of the Adinath Sampradaya of the Nathas. Although Dattatreya was at first a "Lord of Yoga" exhibiting distinctly Tantric trait he was adapted and assimilated into the more devotional Vaishnavite cults; while still worshiped by millions of Hindus, he is approached more as a benevolent god than as a teacher of the highest essence of Indian thought. Dattatreya is credited as the author of the Tripura Rahasya given to Parasurama, a treatise on Advaita Vedanta. Dattatreya was born to the sage Atri, who had been promised by Parameshvara (the Almighty), that He, Parameshvara, would be incarnated as his son. Since Parameshvara subsumes all three members of the trimurti, Dattatreya is at once the incarnation of Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma. This is just one of the many legends related to the birth of Lord Dattatreya. In some he is not Atri's son, but Atri's descendent. Others suggest a more mystical origin of Dattatreya.

Dattatreya left home at an early age to wander naked in search of the Absolute. He seems to have spent most of his life wandering. In The Pathless Path to Immortality, Shri Gurudev Mahendranath writes:

Shri Dattatreya was a dropout of an earlier age than the period when Veda and Tantra merged to become one simple cult. It was men like Dattatreya who helped to make this possible. Three of his close disciples were kings, one an Asura and the other two both belonging to the warrior caste. Dattatreya himself was regarded as an avatar of Maheshwara (Shiva) but later was claimed by Vaishnavites as the avatar of Vishnu. Not such a sectarian claim as it appears; Hindus regard Shiva and Vishnu as the same or as manifestations of the Absolute taking form.... Indeed, the Dattatreya Upanisad, which opens proclaiming Dattatreya's identity with Vishnu, ends with the mantra Om Namah Shivaya, identifying Datta with Shiva. In the last portion of the third chapter, Mahesvara (Shiva) alone is said to pervade reality and shine in every heart of man. He alone is in front, behind, to the left, to the right, below, above, everywhere the center. Finally, Mahesvara is identified with Dattatreya, depicting the latter as an Avatar of Shiva.

Guru Gobind Singh writes in the Dasam Granth that Dattatreya(Datt Muni, Datt Dev etc.) was an incarnation of Rudra (The Supreme Power). He has written the whole story of Dattatreya life.

Werness (2004: p. 138) ventures the semiology of the four dogs each of a different colour oft-depicted in Dattatreya iconography as holding the valence of the four Vedas:

Pre-Vedic Indian dogs were regarded as auspicious symbols, and later deities assumed dog forms, became associated with dogs, and were linked with the glory and fidelity of warriors. Four different-coloured dogs accompanied the Dattatreya, who represented the four Vedas... There is other symbolism attachable here. Dogs also held the cultural significance of 'dog eaters' (Sanskrit: candala) those who existed beyond the confines of Varnashrama Dharma. Dogs are both wild and tame, and symbols of fidelity and devotion. Dattatreya is one of the oldest deities. The first reference of this deity is found in epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana. In the Dattatreya Upanishad which is a part of the Atharva Veda, he is described as being able to appear in the form of a child, madman, or demon in order to help his devotees achieve moksha, liberation from the bonds of worldly existence.

The single head for Dattatreya can be explained if one sees the Tantric traditions which prevailed in India about 1000 years back. It was Gorakshanath who changed/removed the aghori traditions and made the Nath sampradaya in the acceptable civil form of today. Dattatreya must have been a very powerful sage existing before this time and over the centuries sometime he was defined to the form of Dattatreya. The three heads have come definitely later in the last 900 years or so.

Dattatreya incarnation of the Divine Trinity Brahma, Vishnu and Siva and his avatars- Shripad Shri Vallabha, Sri Nrusimha Saraswati and Swami Samarth Maharaj.

According to the book "Shridattareya Shodashavatar Charitanee" by Shri Vasudevananda Saraswati, Dattatreya is supposed to have taken 16 Avatars. The names and their birthdate (as per the Lunar calendar) are given in brackets.

1. Yogiraaj (Kaartik Shu.15)
2. Atrivarad (Kaartik Kru.1)
3. Dattatreya (Kaartik Kru.2)
4. Kaalaagnishaman (Maargashirsha Shu.14)
5. Yogijanvallabh (Maargashirsha Shu.15)
6. Lilaavishambhar (Paush Shu.15)
7. Siddharaaj (Maagh Shu.15)
8. Dnyaasaagar (Faalgun Shu.10)
9. Vishambhar (Chaitra Shu.15)
10. Maayaamukta (Vaishaakh Shu.15)
11. Maayaamukta (Jyeshtha Shu.13)
12. Aadiguru (Aashaadh Shu.15)
13. Shivarup (Shraavan Shu.8)
14. Devdev (Bhaadrapad Shu.14)
15. Digambar (Aashwin Shu.15)
16. Krishnashyaamkamalnayan (Kaartik Shu.12)

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Kaal Bhairav Jayanti

Kaal Bhairav Ashtami, also known as Bhairavashtami, Bhairava Jayanti, Kala-Bhairava Ashtami and Kala-Bhairava Jayanti is a Hindu holy day commemorating the birthday of Bhairava, a fearsome and wrathful manifestation of the god Shiva. It falls on the eighth lunar day in the fortnight of the waning moon in the Hindu month of Kartik. By both schemes, Bhairava Ashtami falls on the same day in November–December. The name Kalashtami is sometimes used to refer to this day, but might also refer to any ashtami in Krishna paksha, all of which are sacred days of Bhairava, who is also called also Dandapani and he rides a dog he is also known as Swaswa meaning "whose horse is a dog".

Legend

Bhairava is an manifestation of Shiva's wrath. According to the legend narrated on the occasion, the Trimurti gods, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva were talking in a serious mood as to who was superior of them all. In the heated debate, Shiva felt slighted by remarks made by Brahma and instructed his ganor Bhairava to cut of one of Brahma’s five heads. Bhairava followed Shiva’s orders and one head of Brahma was cut off and thus he became four headed. Instilled with fear, all others prayed to Shiva and Bhairava.

Another slightly modified version is that when Brahma insulted Shiva, Bhairava appeared from the angry Shiva's forehead and severed Brahma's head, leaving him with only four heads. The head of Brahma stuck to Bhairava's left palm due to the sin of killing Brahma, the most learned Brahmin – Brahmahatya or Brahminicide. To expiate the sin of brahmahatya, Bhairava had to perform the vow of a Kapali: wandering the world as a naked beggar with the skull of the slain as his begging bowl. Bhairava's sin is finally expiated when he reaches the holy city of Varanasi, where a temple dedicated to him still exists.

Practices

An all-night vigil is observed on Bhairava Ashtami with prayers, worship and tales of Bhairava, Shiva and Parvati being told. In the midnight, an arati of Bhairava should be performed with conches, bells and drums. After taking a bath in the morning, devotees, especially Shiva-worshipping Shaivas offer libations and oblations to their dead ancestors. Then, Bhairava, Shiva, Shiva's consort Parvati and Bhairava's vahana, the dog, is worshipped with flowers and sweets. Dogs are also offered milk, sweets, curds and other food as offerings.

The day is considered holier if Bhairava Ashtami falls on a Sunday or a Tuesday, sacred weekdays dedicated to Bhairava. Bhairava is specifically worshipped for success, wealth, health and obstacle removal. A devotee is said to be freed of sin and the fear of death by observing Bhairava Ashtami.

Bhairava Ashtami is observed in Bhairav Prasad Temple in Vaishno Devi hills in Kashmir. On this day, an image of Kala-Bhairava is made in gold or silver and immersed in a brass metal pot filled with water and worshipped with all scriptural prayers, as is done to Shiva. Then, the priests who do the puja are offered gifts.

In Varanasi, an eight-day pilgrimage of the eight temples dedicated to Ashta Bhairava, eight subsidiary aspects of Bhairava, is undertaken on the first eight days of the fortnight, culminating with Bhairava Ashtami. On Bhairava Ashtami, Kala Bhairava, the city's guardian deity, is worshipped in his temple. For the rest of a year, a cloth covers the central icon, except his face, however on this day, the cloth is removed to reveal the whole image. The image is adorned with a garland of silver skulls on this day.

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Tulsi Vivah is the ceremonial marriage of the Tulsi plant (holy basil) to the Hindu god Vishnu in the form of Salagram Shila. This ceremony can be performed any time between Prabodhini Ekadashi - the eleventh lunar day of the bright fortnight of the Hindu month Kartik to the full moon of the month Kartik Poornima but usually it is performed on the eleventh or the twelfth lunar day. The day varies from region to region. The Tulsi wedding signifies the end of the monsoon and the beginning of the Hindu wedding season. Tulsi is venerated as a goddess in Hinduism and considered a wife of god Vishnu in the form of Salagram Shila. She is often called as Vishnupriya, the beloved of Vishnu. The legend behind Tulsi Vivah and its rites are told in the scripture Padma Purana.

According to Hindu mythology the Tulsi plant was a woman named Vrinda (Brinda), a synonym of Tulsi. She was married to the demon-king Jalandhar. Due to her piety and devotion to Vishnu, her husband became invincible. Even god Shiva the destroyer in the Hindu Trinity could not defeat Jalandhar. So Shiva requested Vishnu - the preserver in the Trinity - to find a solution. Vishnu disguised himself as Jalandhar and violated Vrinda. Her chastity destroyed, Jalandhar was killed by Shiva. Vrinda cursed Vishnu to become black in colour and he would be separated from his wife.Thus, he was transformed into the black Shaligram stone and in his Rama avatar, his wife Sita was kidnapped by a demon-king and thus separated from him. Vrinda then burnt herself on her husband's funeral pyre or immolated herself due to the shame. The gods or Vishnu transferred her soul to a plant, henceforth which was called as Tulsi.

As per a blessing by Vishnu to marry Vrinda in her next birth, Vishnu in form of Shaligram - married Tulsi on Prabodhini Ekadashi. To commemorate this event, the ceremony of Tulsi Vivah is performed. Another minor legend narrates that Lakshmi- the chief consort of Vishnu - slew a demon on this day and remained on earth as the Tulsi plant.

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