|As to the
purpose for which Vishnu assumed the Datta incarnation, the Harivamsha states that
his object was to save the world from the curse ofignorance. People had entirely forgotten
the Vedas, they never bothered to perform Vedic rites like sacrifices, nor were they any
longer aware of the fourfold division of society. In this darkness Vishnu stepped in.
Kshama or mercy was the chief characteristic or guna of this incarnation as is only
befitting for one who is out to revive knowledge. Dattatreya revived the study of the
Vedas, lifted knowledge from the depths it had reached, re-established Vedic rites and
sacrifices and enforced the chaturvarnya system once again.
This incarnation was, thus, meant for the specific purpose of the revival of true
know ledge-sat-dharma.This emphasis on the role of Dattatreya as the saviour of truth and
knowledge is of cardinal importance in the understanding of the Datta cult. It is this
emphasis that is the origin of the custom of referring to Datta- treya as Shri Guru. Once
this concept of Datta as Guru, the great preacher of dharma, had taken firm
root in the religious traditions of the society, a very interesting phenomenon occurred.