Lord Dattatreya and His 24 Gurus

Lord Dattatreya and His 24 Gurus

Lord Dattatreya is considered as among one of the 24 Vishnu’s Incarnations. LordDattatreya was born of Rishi Atri and Anausya. The name Dattatreya can be divided into two words, Datta (means Giver) and Atri (Sage Atri). Lord Dattatreya considered as guru of environmental education, gained enlightenment by his observation from surrounding, which provided him 24 gurus. These gurus explain the problems of mundane attachments, and teach the path towards the spiritual self-realization of the Supreme.

The core message of Lord Dattatreya is:

“Never judge by surface appearances but always seek a deeper Truth”.


Lord Dattatreya is imaged with three faces, six hands and single body. The three faces represented the Trinity (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). Each pair of hands carries two of the symbols of the three deities. The four dogs are shown with the image of Lord Dattatreyarepresents the Four Holy Vedas. A cow standing behind in the image represents the Mother Earth.


Narration of Story as in Srimad Bhagavatam

Shri Krishna the Supreme Personality of Godhead narrates the story of Lord Dattatreyaand his 24 Gurus, in His final teaching to his dear friend Uddhava. This teaching is considered as second best teaching by Shri Krishna after Bhagavad Geeta, and is known as The Uddhava Geeta.

Once King Yadu saw Lord Dattatreya (Avadhoot) wandering in a forest happily, free from worries. The king with humbleness asked the sage, about the secret of his happiness and the name of his Guru. Further said to sage, that despite you look capable and wise, why do you live in the forest. Even though you have no family, nor any loved one, how could you be so blissful and self-contented?

To answer the Yadu’s enquired queries, the Lord Dattatreya (Avadhoot, one who have given up all worldly desires) replied:

“My bliss and contentment are the fruits of self-realization. Soul (Aatmaa) alone is my Guru, yet I have gained the necessary wisdom from the whole creation, via 24 individual who were therefore my Gurus. I shall elaborate the same for you”. 

Further Lord Dattatreya said:

 (… I have taken shelter of twenty-four gurus, who are the following: the earth, air, sky, water, fire, moon, sun, pigeon and python; the sea, moth, honeybee, elephant and honey thief; the deer, the fish, the dancing girl Pingala, the kurari bird and the child; the young girl, arrow maker, serpent, spider and wasp…”.           

                                     (Srimad Bhagavatam: Canto 11: Chapter 7: Slokas 33~35)

 The 24 Gurus of Lord Dattatreya 

  1. Earth (Prithvi) (Along with Mountain & Trees)The Earth teaches course of Dharma, art of Tolerance, art of Performing Duty. One can learn Patience and Forgiveness from Earth. Like mountains and trees, one should devotedly dedicate self to the welfare of other living beings.

    2. Air (Vaayu)

    The Air being pure and odorless in its characteristics, move freely among all objects and yet remain unaffected. The Air teaches the value of being free from all contamination, and of staying clear of material world’s disturbances.

When Air blows out of control, the atmosphere becomes agitated, similarly if the mind is constantly attracted and repelled by material objects, it will be next to impossible to think of the Absolute Truth, Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna.

  1. Sky (Aakash)

The Sky having no boundaries, beyond the reach of material nature. Infinite in nature, sometime clouds cover the sky but yet sky remains unaffected. In the same way, the soul is never affected, by the material body contamination. Like sky, the Soul is omnipresent, all-pervading, and infinite in nature. The inner emptiness of sky i.e. space, teaches the sage should be free of emotions within insight.

  1. Water (Jal)

The sage is like water because he is free from all impurities, gentle in nature and while speaking he creates a beautiful vibration like the flowing of water. By seeing, touching or hearing such a saintly person, the living entity is cleansed as if coming in contact with pure water.

Water quenches the thirst of every creature, very important element for all creatures. Without feeling any proud, water serves all living beings. The sage too should likewise bestow health, peace and joy to every creature that resorts to him. The Sage should ever live as the humblest of God’s creation. Water teaches the quality of purity. Just as the pure water cleanses others, so also the sage, who is pure and free from selfishness, lust, egoism, anger, greed, etc., purifies all who come in contact with him.

  1. Fire (Agni)

Fire burns bright, cannot be suppressed by others. It has no extra storage place, it keeps all inside itself and it can eat anything and yet not get dirty when comes in to contact of other dirty things. The sage’s glory is like the fire, is made brighter by austerities, his knowledge and tapas; having no vessel other than his stomach.

Although having no shape of its own, the fire assumes the shape of the firewood through which it reveals itself. Similarly, having entered a particular body, the soul reveals the traits through that body.

  1. Moon (Chandarmaa)

The moon waxes and wanes, despite this continuous change taking place with the moon, yet it remains unaffected by this process. Similarly the sage should not be affected by the continual change of body from birth to death including diseases and old age.

  1. Sun (Surya)

The reflection of sun can be seen in many objects, but the actual sun is One and undivided. That teaches the Supreme Soul is one, and reflected into various bodies; but the soul is not body itself.

The sun evaporates water, and it returns water back to earth in the form of rain without any attachment or entangled with its act. Similarly the sage can accept material things with his senses, but at the appropriate time he should give these things back, as an act from sense of duty. Without getting attached to material sense objects.

  1. Pigeon (A Bird)

Once a devoted pigeon couple along with their babies lives happily in jungle. The couple loves each other too much, also take care of their infant babies. The love among them is ever growing every day. One day the couple went to bring food for their children. In the meanwhile, the bird-hunter came to their nest and caught the children in a net. When the couple returned back, they saw their dear children were caught in net. Unable to live without their children, the couple foolishly also jumped into that trap of net. The bird-catcher returned home with the complete catch.


The pigeon story warns against developing obsessive love or attachments in the transient material world. The sage would refrain from attachment after attaining the human body, which is the open door to Mukti (Moksha, Liberation), a door to God-Realization. Even after being born as an intelligent living being, one is caught in the clutches of possessiveness and brings about his own spiritual destruction. Excessive attachment and love with anything except wisdom, is the cause of bondage.

  1. Python (Ajgar)

A python eats whatever comes in its way and satisfy, whether it is sufficient or not, bitter or sweet etc.

One should accept whatever one comes across in the life with full contentment. While suffering the hardships and miseries in life, one should think, it is due to past sinful activities that one is being punished. A sage always goes for search of wisdom and refrains from running after unwanted pleasures.

  1. HoneyBee (Madhu Makhi)

Honeybee wanders from flower to flower to collect nectar from them, without hurting the flower and draws honey.

Similarly the sage takes the essence of different various Holy Scriptures, study and practices them spiritually. The sage should wander from door to door to beg just enough food for his living without troubling the householders who provide them. The sage should not become greedy.

  1. Honey-Theif (Honey-Gatherer)The bees collect honey and store it with hard work, which they neither eat nor give away it, themselves in charity to any other creature(s). The Honey-Gatherer (honey-theif), comes and takes the honey easily.
    The sage should not store things for himself even for the next time. He should use his palms to take food and stomach to store food. We have to leave all we store out of trouble throughout our life, at once and depart when the Lord of Death Yama come and take us with him.

    12. Bird of Prey (Kurari Bird, Hawk)

    One there was Kurari bird who pick some sort of food in the beak from somewhere. At that time, the other stronger birds having no food to eat attacked that bird to take food away from his beak. In order to get rid of the attack and to attain peace, the bird dropped the food from beak.
    The worldly possessions are source of trouble. If one run after sensual pleasures, will soon come into clash with his fellow-beings, who too run for the same, and has to face much miseries and strife. Happiness and Enlightenment belong to one who lives simply, conquer his craving for worldly things and seeks only spiritual goals. One becomes as happy and relieved only on abandoning the sensual pleasures.

    13. Sea (Ocean, Samudra)
    The ocean neither increases due to excessive inflow of rivers nor decreases due to stoppage of flow of rivers, yet it maintains its level. The calm sea never disturbed, always remains in its boundaries (except the Natural Catastrophe).
    The sage should be equipoised and in state of calmness. The life of sage remains balanced; the joys of life do not excite him, nor do sorrows depress him. The wise sage never transgresses the highest standards of morality. The depth of such sage’s wisdom cannot be easily comprehended by anyone, just as hidden pearls at the depth of ocean cannot easily be discovered.

    14. Moth (Grasshoper, Patanga)

    The moth is tempted by fire, being attracted by the delightful beauty of flame, it jumps into it and get burns within it.
    Similarly a foolish man is enticed by the illusory pleasures of the visual senses and thus gets caught in the ceaseless cycles of birth and death.
    To control the sense of sight (and all other senses) and to try to avoid being greedy.

    15. Elephant (Haathi)

    The male elephant out of immense lust falls into a pit covered over with grass by the scent of its mate, a paper and wooden made female elephant. The elephant gets caught and enchained after being attracted towards its opposite gender mate.
    Similarly, a passionate person is tempted by the opposite gender and falls into the trap and come to grief. The seekers of Spiritual Truth should learn, to get rid from the clutches of lust.

    16. Deer (Hiran)

    The deer is very fond of music and is very much attracted by it. The deer is trapped by hunter through its love for music. Hunter employs music to lure the deer before hunting it.
    Passion and Sensual Desires will later or sooner bring down a sage from his spiritual progress. A renounced person should never become attracted by mundane sounds like sensuous music, specially the sweet singing and dancing of girl.

    17. Fish (Machali)

    Due to uncontrolled tongue, the fish is caught on hook. It is through tasteful bait (small food use to catch fish), that the fish meets its end.
    Among the sense, tongue is the most difficult to be controlled. When tongue is controlled, other sense will become easy to be controlled. Apart from that, fish never leaves its home (i.e. water), so one should never lose sight of his True Self.

    18. Pingala (A Dancing Girl)

    There was a dancing girl named Pingala, she was tired of looking for customers one night to come and give her sensual pleasure along with lot of money. She became hopeless and ultimately out of frustration gave her plans for earning money via this means. Feeling satisfaction from her abandonment of material desires, she was contented with what she had, and then had sound sleep. She has realized that divine spirit lies within herself, who is of the nature of bliss eternal.
    The abandonment of expectation from people, leads to contentment and infinite joy.

    19. Child
    A child has no grievance, anger, jealousy, hatred and above all Free of Ego and Arrogance. Both child and sage are free from anxieties, and fully engrossed in the supreme joy. A child is happy and enjoying due to ignorance, while sage is happy free from all worldly desires, which is transcended the three gunas (satva, rajas and tamas).
    Live like being child at heart, innocent, care free and full of Supreme Joy.

    20. Maiden (Un-Married Girl)

    Once some people came home to see a Maiden Girl. Her parents were not at home, so she had to entertain them herself. She went to kitchen and started beating rice for their food. At that time her hand bangles started making noise. She did not like that noise [because it showed that they were so poor that she herself had to beat the rice]. So she broke all the bangles except two in each hand. But still they made noise. So she broke one more bangle from each hand. Hence no noise produced.

    When there are number of spiritual seekers living together, there will be clash of interests. Even among two persons, there might be disturbance, dispute etc. The sage should live alone in solitude, as it is better to live alone, without creating any unwanted noise, gossips.

    21. Serpent (Snake, Saaamp)

    The snake lives alone and avoids the company of other creatures. In order to seek Self-Realization, one should abide in the cave of his own heart.
    The snake leaves of its old skin after sometime, and gets the newer one; that make resemblance with phenomenon of death. A true sage never frightened by the death, knowing sooner or later he will get a new life based on his karmic actions.

    22. Arrow-Smith (Maker of Arrow)

    Once there was an arrow maker, he was so absorbed in making the tip of an arrow; that he didn’t notice the procession of King passes nearby him. He was very much keen in his work.
    Focused Mind, Concentration is the way to achieve Self-Realization.

    23. Spider (Makari)

    Spider builds a beautiful web from his heart through the mouth; play and enjoys with it and then after some time swallow that very same web.
    Lord Supreme creates material universe from His Maya, preserves it and after a while draws it back into the Self. The Supreme Self has no desires and is beyond the reach of cause and effect.

    24. Caterpillar (Wasp, Bhringee)

    The wasp catches hold of a worm (caterpillar), put it in its hive (nest), gives it a sting and goes on buzzing about it. The caterpillar is so frightened by this whole ongoing process of buzzing, that it cannot think anything else apart from wasp. The constantly kept thinking of caterpillar of about wasp, eventually make a caterpillar, a wasp itself.
    Whatever form a man constantly thinks of (knowingly, unintentionally, be it with love, jealousy or fear etc.), he attains in course of time that form. As a man thinks, so he becomes. Even at the time of death, whatever one’s mind focused on, one attains the same living species form in his next life.
    Thus one must try to give up all attachment to the body and attain Moksha or liberation.
    If one constantly, devotedly without any sort of deviation mediates upon the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one will achieve a spiritual body just like that of the Lord, qualitatively.


Further Lord Dattatreya explains what he has learned from his own body.

“My Body teaches me Gyaan (knowledge) and Vairaagya (detachment). Birth and death are along with it. It means that if we hold on to this body then we have to bear sorrows. Although it helps to think about Tattwa (elements) still I never consider it mine.”

To please whatever body, the living being is always busy in desiring many things, does Karma (deeds) and collects wealth with great difficulties; the same body is destroyed after its time is completed. 

Although Bhagwan created many Yonis (as many as 84 millions), but he did not get satisfied with them, then he created (Manushya Yoni) human being. Mokash is the main objective of this Yoni, because pleasures can be achieved in many other Yonis, but Mokash can be attained only in this Yoni. Therefore one should not waste this valuable Yoni in enjoying pleasures. Thinking thus I took Vairaagya. Neither I love anything, nor am I proud of anything.”

With humbles and full devotion, I looked upon the whole of God’s creation as my various Gurus; trying to gather Wisdom from them and realizing my goal of Spiritual Enlightenment.

Summarizing the 24 Gurus

The Earth represents the Dharma. The Wind symbolizes freedom of Truth. The Sun, Moon and Ocean emphasizing the unchanging Nature of Truth. The Sky shows the Infinite Nature of Self. The Spider reminds the Transient Nature of Material World. The Moth, Elephant, Deer and Fish warn against the Overwhelming of distraction caused by desires. The Pigeon, Honeybee, Kurari Bird and Pingala warn against the Worldly Attachments. The Child evokes the happiness of freedom from material care. The Python and Honeybee emphasize the benefits of simple living. The Fire and Water teaches the Power to Purify the Contamination of Material World. The Maiden and Snake teaches to avoid any distraction caused by unwanted things. The Arrowsmith, teaches to remain focused and concentrate towards the goal. The Caterpillar teaches that by concentrating on God, one can return to Godhead, the Ultimate Goal.


Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 11, Chapter 7 Shri Krishna instruction Uddhava

(Slokas from 27.. onwards).