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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 December 2009


The object of this brief account is primarily to make available the Mahānubhāva evidence on Dattātreya—most of which, where it is published at all, is published in Marathi. The little written on the subject in the West is either out-dated or extremely sketch, and fails to distinguish between what is said of Dattātreya in the early Mahānubhāva texts and the tales of the later material. At the same time it is necessary to provide some kind of context by referring to the Puranic evidence and also to the more recent developments of the Dattātreya cult which is confined almost entirely to western India—Gujarat, Maharashtra and northern Karnataka. These sections are far from exhaustive for there are more trails than can be pursued in the course of one article.

Copyright © School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 1982

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1 Examples would be Farquar, J. N., An outline of the religious literature of India, Oxford, 1920 247–9Google Scholar; Gonda, J., Die Religionen Indiens, II, Stuttgart, 1963, 67, 177–8Google Scholar

2 Raeside, I. M. P., ‘The Mahānubhāvas’, BSOAS, XXXIX, 3, 1963, 593– 4.Google Scholar

3 Ḍhere, R. C., Datta sampradāyācā itihāsa, 2nd ed., Poona, 1964Google Scholar; Josi, P. N., Śrādattātreyu juānakośa, Bombay, 1974Google Scholar; Joshi, H. S., Origin and development of Dattātreya worship in India, Baroda, 1965.Google Scholar

4 III, exv. 8+; XII. xlix. 30+; XIII. cxxxviii. 12; cxlii.21. The references art to the BORI edition which is not the most convenient since it consigns the first two cases to an appendix or footnote as interpolations. The references to Dattātreya in the anuśāsanaparra have, however, been allowed to remain. It is of iterest to recall that the Kārtavīrya episode provides Madeleine Biardeau with a platform from which to launch one of her attacks on the ‘reconstructed’ Mahābhārata text, although she is not here concerned with Dattātreya. Biardeau, M., ‘The story of Arjana Kartavirya without reconstruction’, Purāṇa, XII, 2, 07 1970, 286303.Google Scholar

5 Bhāgavata II. vii, 4; I. iii. II: Viṣṇu IV. xi. 3.

6 Śiva II. xix. 1–28; Mārkaṇḁeya xvi. 89.

7 For the full puranic references see H. S. Joshi, op. cit., 55–63.

8 Mārkaṇḁeya xvii. 21–3, xviii. 23–30, xix. 4–5.

9 anagheyarṅ dvijaśreṣṭha jaganmātā na dūṣyate/yathāṃśumālā sūryasya dvijacāṇḁālasanginī (Mārkaṇḁeya xviii. 32).

10 e.g. vaṛsāyutam taptvā (Brahmapurāṇa XIII. 161).

11 II. xiv. 11; III. iii. 10.

12 Mārkaṇḁeya xix. 1–3.

13 See Joshi, op. cit., 63.

14 Mārkaṇḁeya xx–xliv.

15 Joshi, op. cit., 51–4.

16 The appellation avadhūta has come to be particularly associated with Dattātreya in the modern cult. Whether it always was is another matter. Zimmer, for instance, in his Philosophies of India (1964 ed., 448–9) cites the avadhūta Gītā smiply as one of many ‘Vedānta Gītās’. Cf. Joshi, 72–5.

17 See Joshi, op. cit., 71–2; Ḍhere, 21–5.

18 See Raeside, 1976, 589. Kolate, V. B., Śri Cakradhara caritra, Malkapur, 1952, 284318Google Scholar, discusses the dates of Cakradhara and of the Līḷācaritra at lenght. The most recent treatment is Feldhaus, A., The Mahānubhāva Sūtrapāṭha, Univ. of Pennsylvania Ph.D. thesis, 1976, 1329Google Scholar

19 I refer to the Līḷācaritra in the edition of S. G. Tulpule, 5 vols., Poona, 1964–7, and as is conventional, by the number of the līḷā within the three sections Ekānka, Pūrvārdha and Uttarārdha.

20 On the south bank of the Godavari east of Paithan. The Datta temple there was recently (in 1963) rebuilt and reconsecrated by an active group of Mahānubhāvas.

21 See Feldhaus, op. cit., 19–21, for a discussion of the relationship of the Pancakṛṣṇa to the rest of the Sūtrapātha.

22 Raeside, 1976, 594.

23 I cite the Sutrapāṭha from my own pantha edition of the text; Nagpur, 1959. Dr. Feldhaus's excellent edition, when published, will of course supersede this.

24 Deśapānḁe, J. S. and Mahānubhāva, Kṛṣṇadāsa, Hayagīvācāryakṛta Gadyarāja, Bombay, 1966Google Scholar. The dating of this work could be challenged, but the Mahānubhāva histories are so detailed and, in the main, so consistent that it is unlikely to be far out.

25 The line is obscure and has admittedly been translated in the light of the later commentaries and of the version translated below.

26 Kolate, V. B., Ravaḷobāsakṛta sahyādri-varṇana, Poona 1964, VV. 21–6Google Scholar, 127–31, 132–6, 151–83;.

27 The versions of the three main stories given here have close parallels in the prose commentary on the verses of Gadyarāja already referred to. This commentary is traditionally ascribed to Bhīṣmācārya Lāsūrakara in the late fourteenth century, so probably the nearest one can get to dating the Sahyādra-liḷā is some time between 1330 and 1400.

28 ‘avasthāna’ in the meta-language of Līḷācaritra means a stay of more than one day in any place.

29 Mahādāisā was one of Cakradhara's first female disciples. Her questions originate many līḷā

30khīdakīdvārehuni’. This possibly refers to a sambandhī sthdna—an existing door of the Devadeveśvara temple that would be sacred to the faithful through being ‘connected’ with Parameśvara. On the other hand there is no mention of such a sthāna in the relevant section of the Sthānapoṭhi (ed. V. B. Kolate, Malkapur, c. 1950).

31 ‘bījeṃ karitāti’. In Mahānubhāva works avatars of Parameśvara never ‘go’ or ‘walk’, they ‘advance in triumph’ (bī<vijaya?).

32ubhe dhāṭīyā and ‘sāulā’. Some particular way of tight-binding the head-cloth seems to be meant, plus a waist-cloth-both presumably typical of the Mānga, one of the lowest of the old untouchable castes of Maharahtra.

33 cf. śambali in the Sūtrapāṭha (above p. 492). The words are perhaps derived form Skt. śambala-‘provisions for a journey’, referring to the load of meat-a suggestion I owe to J. C. Wright.

34 Meaning: ‘You, who are my followers, should not expect similar effects’. There are many similar anecdotes in Liḷācaritra where Cakradhara discourages his flock from expecting miracles from him.

35 The tradition that Kārtavīrtavīrya was born armless or, as here, having only fingerless stumps in place of hands can be found in the Gaṇeśa-purāṇa I. 72–3 and in the Reṅukā-mātmya xxvii (see below, note 62).

36 mardanā mādaneṃ jāleṃ. The ceremonial oiling and bathing of Cakradhara is frequently referred to in līḷācaritra. Cf. Uttarārdha 8, 234 and especially pūrvārdha 262 for a detailed account. The ambiguity over the ‘he’ runs throughout this passage but it is not hard to work out who is doing what.

37 thāpāṅ. For thāpā in the sense of ‘fingerless stump’ see Dṛṣṭānta 53 (the Leper): hātāpāyāce thāpe jāle hote- ‘his arms and legs had turned into stumps’ (ed. Tuḷapuḷe, S. G., Dṛṣṭāntapāṭha, Poona, 1966, 27).Google Scholar

38 That is, he harmed Reṇukā, Jamadagni and kāmadhenu. See M. Biardeau, art. cit. in note 4, for a discussion of this part of the legend.

39 The corpses of both his parents. It is unusual that Reṇukā should actually die. Cf. Gail, A., Paraśurāma Brahmane und Krieger, Wiesbaden, 1977, 211.Google Scholar

40 khaḷīcā sāulā mālaganṭhīṃ veḁhilā hotā. Cf. Līḷācarītra, Uttārdha 114-eku sāulā mālaganṭhi veḁhilā; also Vachāharaṇa (ed. V. B. Kolate, Malkapur, 1953) 224.

41 doriyānā. I have no ides what this might be, but it seems reasonable to connect it with dorī ‘cord’. Perhaps a rope head-band?

42 āuseṅ ‘mother, mātā, devī’. Possibly the word implies a female yogi for Āuseṃ is the name of such a person who became on of Cakradhara's disciples (Pūrvārdha 349–50).

43 parīvanṭīṃ hotḫṃ. The paravanṭa or parivanṭa appears to be the end of a dhoti or sari as tucked in tight round the waist and not draped over the shoulder (cf. Vachāharaṇa 226) and parivanṭeṃ nesaṇeṃ or dāṭaṇeṃ occurs often in Līṭācaritra in the context of a woman's girding herself up for a journey (Uttarārdha 62, 142, 231, 421).

44 pākhoveyā gāṭhī dīdhaliyā hotīyā. Probably a characteristically pāradhi fashion of tying the two halves of the choli.

45 That is sarvatīrtha, mentioned in all the accounts of Mahur.

46 According to the Sthānapothi, 77, this seems to be a shrine of some kind, The Dattātreya jnānakosā, 374, talks of mūlajharī in a list of minor holy places at Mahur.

47 This presumably reflects a dispute as to which tāndḷā (a more or less featureless stone which has become a cult object) is the original one: that in the Muḷapīṭha (Ekavīrā-Reṇukā) or some other outside. Cf. Sthānapothi, 77–8.

48 The difference between the two versions is purely grammatical, concerning the presence or absence of the -teṃ ending.

49 Āṇavā hare is a deified from of vedha or inspirational teaching. See Feldhaus, op. cit., 82–4. Paraśarāmabāsa and Rāmeśvarabāsa were the two principal ‘editors’ of the Līḷācaritra when it was reconstructed in the early fourteenth century.

50 udayāncā pujāvasaru-not worship by but worship of Cakradhara-his regular levee. For a description see Kolate, , Śrīcakradhara caritra, Malkapur, 1952, 158–9Google Scholar

51 pavhā means a throng of pilgrims at or going to a festival. Cf. P؛rvārdha, 68, 192; uttarārdha 188.

52 There is no mention in Liḷdcaritra of any Ekavirā sthāna in Paithan itself. This liḷā is very similar to Uttarārdha 188 which relates to the Mhāḷasā festival in Nevasa.

53 The suggestion seems to be that the occasion was fairly riotous. There are many references to the prevalence of drunkenness at Devī festivals when theoretical offerings of liquor were distributed as prasāa.

54 Merubālā is the name of a sacred pool near the Devadeveśvara temple at Mahur. See Sthānapothī, 78; Ḍhere, R. C., Datta sampradāyācā itihāsa, 213;Google ScholarDevākośa II, 457.Google Scholar (Prabhudesāī, P. K., Devikośa, 4 vols., Poona, 1967–72).Google Scholar

55 Belopur on the Pravara north of Rahuri in Ahmadnagar District. It was the last place in which Cakradhara lived before being summoned to the capital and his death—Uttarārdha 458.

56 Cf. the similar situation of mountain-peak Datta temples on Guru Shikhar at Abu and at Girnar. On the latter see Burgess, J., Report on the antiquities of Kathiawad and Kacch (Archaeological Survey of Western India II), London, 1876, 175–6.Google Scholar Burgess was told, doubtless by a local Jain, that king Dattātri had been the first convert of Neminātha.

57 On the identity of Reṇukā, and Ekavīrā, see Devīkośa II, 443,Google Scholar 461 ff.; Ḍhere, R. C., ŚāktipiṠhāncā śodha, Kolhapur, 1973, 33.Google Scholar

58 Traditionally Maharashtra has 3½ śāktipīṠhas: Mahur, Kolhapur, Jogeśvarī at Ambe Jogai and Saptasrngī near Nasik (Devīkośa n, 472), and although there is controversy over which is the half, I have never seen it suggested that Mahur was anything but a full one.

59 Mahābhārata III (Vanaparva) cxv-cxvii; XII (Śātiparva) xlix-1.

60 Biardeau, M., ‘La décapitation de Reṇukā dans le mythe de Paraśurāma’, Pratidānam (Kuiper Festschrift), The Hague, 1968, 563–72Google Scholar

61 For instance in Śāntiparva xlix-1; Harivaṃśa I. xli. 104–15;Google ScholarAgnipurāṇa IV. 1220.Google Scholar

62 And perhaps not. One automatically suspects any work t h a t calls itself part of the Skandapurāṇa as being very recent, and it is entirely possible that the Reṇukā-māhātmya as we now have it is considerably later than the Mahānubhāva texts considered so far. The Reṇukā-māhātmya is the longest of a number of local māhātmyas published at the end of Cunha, J. Gerson da, The Sahyādri Khanda of the Skandapurāṇa, Bombay, 1877.Google Scholar on the Sahyāri-khanḍa itself see Levitt, S. H., ‘The Sahyādrikhanda: some problems …’, Purāṇa, XIX. 1, 1977, 840.Google Scholar

63 Reṇukā-māhātmya xxxvi-vii. Gail, op. cit., 206–9, gives a fairly detailed summary of the whole māhātmya.

64 Devīkosā, II, 465–6.Google Scholar

65 Ḍhere, 1973, 40–42.

66 Or at any rate in the Sahyādri. Gail, op. cit., 64, 211, discusses the site of Dattātreya's āśrama without, apparently, having any idea that Mahur might be involved.

67 For instance at Tuljapur. For the one at Mahur see Devīkośa, II,467.Google Scholar According to the Nārada-purāxṇa, Mātangī is black with hairy legs and often drunk (K. D. Nambiar, ‘Nārada Purāṇa: a critical study’, 144, in Pnrārṇa, XVII, 1, 1975). The human Mātangīs described by Ehnore (‘Dravidian gods in modern Hinduism’, University Studies, XV, 1, 1915, 2830)Google Scholar are probably only a regional development.

68 Gail. op. cit., 113–5.

69 Cf. Raeside, 1976, 593–5. I have rather modified the views expressed here, believing noiv that at least Dattātreya at Pancāleśvara must have meant something to Cakradhara.

70 Ḍhere, 1964, 62. Earlier, pp. 43–5, he sees in the Nātha sect a movement of reform against tantric excesses, using the name of Dattātreya as its sadgura, rejecting any connexion with wine and women and crediting Dattātreya with the authorship of the Avadh؛ta-gīta including its virulently anti-feminine eighth chapter. For the Avadh؛ta-gītā see H. S. Joshi, op. cit., 72–5. 71 Phere, 1964, 28–33. 72

71 Ḍhere, 1964, 28–33.

72 The Gurucaritra has never been properly edited but h a s been published many times in pothi form. The ‘edition’ that I have used is Bombay, Jagamitra Chāpakhānā, Śaka 1808 (1886).

73 Ganagāpur, in Gulbarga District near the confluence of the Bhima and the Amarja, and Narsobāvāḍī (or Wadi Narsinh) in Kolhapur District at the meeting of the Krishna and the Fancaganga, were both places where Nrsiinhasarasvati lived reputedly in the mid fifteenth century. See Ḍhere, 1964, 98–116. Of course everythīng that is known about him comes from the Gurucaritra, written at least a century later.

74 Every scrap of information that we have on Dāsopanta comes from an anonymous seventeenth- or eighteenth-century work called Dāsopanta-caritra that was supplied in 1902 by his descendants living in Ambe Jogai. This was translated by J. E. Abbott as the fourth in the Poet Saints of Maharashtra series, Poona, 1927. Both Dhere (pp. 143–51) and Joshi (pp. 111–14) are remarkably coy about this, preferring to cite the introduction to various Marathi editions of minor works ascribed to Dāsopanta.

75 Rakshasbbuvan is on the Godavari, 40 miles south-east of Aurangabad. The Marathas won a famous battle there against the Nizam in August 1763.

76 The Bhaktavijaya was traditionally composed in 1762 and the Bhahtalīldmrta in 1774. Both have been translated by Abbott in various parts of the Poet Saints of Maharashtra.

77 Presumably a misprint for ‘Mātangaā. The quote is from Joshi, op. cit., 107, as I have not been able to see a copy of the Dattaprabodha which Ḍhere says was written in 1860 (Ḍhere, 1964,209) but according to the Dattātreya jnānakośa (pp. 303–5) it was published in Baroda in 1900.

78 Using ‘Mahānubhāva’ here as a shorthand for the Dattātreya darśana tales that are first met with in the fourteenth century Mahānubhāva works. There is no question of literary influence, for none of the Mahānubhāva works were known outside the sect until after 1900.

79 Bhāvārtha-rāmāyaṇa, Bālakānda, xvi. 168. Note that Ekanatha's whole account of the killing of Reṇukā and Jamadagni bears a strong resemblance to the version given in Reṇukāmāhātmya, including Jaraadagni's abandoning of his krodha, the active role taken by the kāmadhenu and Eenukā's reception of 21 wounds while defending her husband—thus inspiring Paraśurāma to swear to revenge her by wiping out the ksatrivas 21 times.Google Scholar

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