Lord Datta or Dattatreya is a combined incarnation of the Hindu trinity i.e. Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. These three main gods in the Hindu pantheon represent the aspects of preservation, creation and destruction respectively. The festival of Dattajayanti celebrates the birth of Lord Datta and is one of the most important festivals in the Hindu calendar. Pilgrims travel from all over to celebrate the festival at the ancient Dattatreya temple in Sanquelim.
The temple of Dattatreya at Sanquelim is the main focus of the celebrations in Goa, although similar celebrations are also held in other parts of the state. Sanquelim is a village in the Bicholim taluka of North Goa.
The festival is celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Margashirsha on the Hindu lunar calendar. This corresponds to the month of December/January on the Gregorian calendar.
There was once a sage Atri. He and his wife Anasuya led a chaste and blameless existence in an ashram in the forest. Anasuya performed Tapas to the gods to beget a son who was in equal parts an incarnation of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva; the Hindu Holy Trinity. Their partners – Saraswati, Lakshmi and Parvati – demanded that their husbands test her devotion before acceding to her request.
The Trimurti (Holy Trinity) appeared to Anasuya in the form of ascetics (sanyasis) and tested her by asking her to give them alms naked. She was confused for a while, but soon regained her composure. Sprinkling them with the waters of the Ganga and uttering a mantra she turned them into babies and breast fed them.
When she returned to the ashram with the babies, she narrated the events of the day to Atri. He then combined the babies into a single infant with three heads and six arms by hugging them to himself.
When their husbands did not return, the goddesses got worried and went to see Anasuya. They apologized to her and asked her to return their husbands to their original forms. Anasuya accepted their apology and the Trimurti appeared before Atri and Anasuya. They rewarded them for their devotion by blessing them with a son, Dattatreya.
Although Dattatreya is considered to be a form of all three deities, he is especially considered to be an avatar of Lord Vishnu, whilst his brothers the moon god Chandra and sage Durvasa are regarded as forms of Brahma and Shiva respectively.
Dattatreya is considered to be the god of knowledge. It is said that devotions rendered unto him cure people of mental illness and an unsound mind. On the occasion of Dattajayanti, devotees wake early in the morning and bathe in the holy rivers and/or streams. They fast on this day and perform puja to the idol of Dattatreya, venerating him with flowers, incense, lamps and camphor.
They meditate on the life of Dattatreya and read sacred works like Avadhuta Gita and Jivanmukta Gita which contain portions of his discourses. Other works like Datta Prabodh and Datta Mahatmya, both of which are based on the life of Lord Datta are read. Bhajans are also sung to venerate the deity.
The Shri Datta mandir at Sanquelim in the Bicholim taluka of Goa is one of the main centres for the celebrations that take place on the occasion of Dattajayanti. This mandir is one of the oldest mandirs in Goa and is a holy place for pilgrims and devotees of Lord Datta.
Thousands of devotees congregate here at the time of the Dattajayanti festival to render thanks and offer their prayers to beget blessings from the deity. The highlight of the festival is the palanquin procession that takes place around the mandir.
On the morning of the Dattajayanti day, the idol of Lord Dattatreya is placed in a Palana (cradle) and the Palana geet (cradle song) is sung after the pujas are performed by the Mahajans of the temple. The prayers and bhajans continue through the day.
In the night, the palanquin procession is begun and proceeds once around the temple complex. This is known as pradakshina. On the second day an Annasantarpan takes place in the afternoon, followed by a Lalit (dance-drama) and ashirvad. This concludes the two day celebrations of Datta Jayanti Utsav.
The celebrations also take place in other Datta devasthans in Goa. One other important location is the Khandepar village in the Ponda taluka. Celebrations here include various religious rituals, kirtan, palanquin procession, Shibikotsav, sangodd and Datta Janma Sohala.