The Vishnu-smriti or Vaishnava Dharmasastra or Vishnu- sutra is in the main a collection of ancient aphorisms on the sacred laws of India, and as such it ranks with the other ancient works of this class which have come down to our time. It may be styled a Dharma-sutra, though this ancient title of the Sutra works on law has been preserved in the MSS. of those Smritis only, which have been handed down, like the Dharma-sutras of Apastamba, Baudhayana, and Hiraeyakesin, as parts of the respective Kalpa- sutras, 'to which they belong. The size of the Vishnu- sutra, and the great variety of the subjects treated in it, would suffice to entitle it to a conspicuous place among the five or six existing Dharma-sutras; but it possesses a peculiar claim to interest, which is founded on its close connection with one of the oldest Vedic schools, the Kathas, on the one hand, and with the famous code of Manu and some other ancient law-codes, on the other hand. To discuss these two principal points, and some minor points connected with them, as fully as the limits of an introduction admit of, will be the more necessary, because such a discussion can afford the only safe basis for a conjecture not altogether unsupported regarding the time and place of the original composition of this work, and may even tend to throw some new light on tire vexed question as to the origin of the code of Manu. Further on I shall have to speak of the numerous interpolations traceable in the Vishsu-sutra, and a few remarks regarding the materials used for this translation, and the principles of interpretation that have been followed in it, may be fitly reserved for the last.
There is no surer way for ascertaining the particular Vedic school by which an ancient Sanskrit law-book of unknown or uncertain origin was composed, than by examining the quotations from, and analogies with, Vedic works which it contains. Thus the Gautama Dharma- sastra might have originated in anyone among the divers Gautama Karanas with which Indian tradition acquaints us. But the comparatively numerous passages which its author has borrowed from the Samhita and from one Brahmana of the Sama-veda prove that it must belong to one of those Gautama Karanas who studied the Sama-veda. Regarding the code of Yagnavalkya we learn from tradition that a Vedic teacher of that name was the reputed author of the White Yagur-veda. But this coincidence might be looked upon as casual, if the Yagfiavalkya-smriti did not contain a number of Mantras from that Vedic Samhita, and a number of very striking analogies, in the section on funeral ceremonies particularly, with the Grihya- sutra of the Vagasaneyins, the Katiya Grihya-sutra of Para- skara. In the case of the Vishnu-sutra an enquiry of this kind is specially called for, because tradition leaves us entirely in the dark as to its real author. The fiction that the laws promulgated in Chapters II-XCVII were communicated by the god Vishnu to the goddess of the earth, is of course utterly worthless for historical purposes; and all that it can be made to show is that those parts of this work in which it is started or kept up cannot rival the laws themselves in antiquity.
Now as regards, first, the Vedic Mantras and Pratikas (beginnings of Mantras) quoted in this work, it is necessary to leave aside, as being of no moment for the present purpose, I. very well-known Mantras, or, speaking more precisely, all such Mantras as are frequently quoted in Vedic works of divers Sakhas; the purificatory texts enumerated under the title of Sarva-veda-pavitrani in LVI. The latter can afford us no help in determining the particular Sakha to which this work belongs, because they are actually taken, as they profess to be, from all the Vedas indiscriminately, and because nearly the whole of Chapter LVI is found in the Vasishtha-smriti as well (see further on), which probably does not belong to the same Veda as this work. Among the former class of Mantras may be included, particularly, the Gayatri, the Purushasukta, the Aghamarshana, the Kushmandis, the Vyahritis, the Gyeshtha Samans, the Rudras, the Trinakiketa, the Trisuparna, the Vaishnava, Sakra, and Barhaspatya Mantras mentioned in XC, 3, and the Mantra quoted in XXVIII, 51 (= Gautama's 'Retasya'). Among the twenty-two Mantras quoted in Chapters XLVIII, LXIV, LXV (including repetitions, but excluding the Purushasukta, Gayatri, Aghamarshana) there are also some which may be referred to this class, and the great majority of them occur in more than one Veda at the same time. But it is worthy of note that no less than twelve, besides occurring in at least one other Sakha, are either actually found in the Samhita of the Karayaniya-kathas, the Kathaka (or Karaka-sakha ?), or stated to belong to it in the Commentary, while one is found in the Kathaka alone, a second in the Atharva-veda alone, a third in the Taittiriya Brahmana alone, and a fourth does not occur in any Vedic work hitherto known. A far greater number of Mantras occurs in Chapters XXI, LXVII, LXXIII, LXXIV, LXXXVI, which treat of daily oblations, Sraddhas, and the ceremony of setting a, bull at liberty. Of all these Mantras, which,-including the Purushasukta and other such well-known Mantras as well as the short invocations addressed to Soma, Agni, and other deities, but excluding the invocations addressed to Vishnu in the spurious Sutra, LXVII, 2,-are more than a hundred in number, no more than forty or so are found in Vedic works hither to printed, and in the law-books of Manu, Yagnavalkya, and others; but nearly all are quoted, exactly in the same order as in this work, in the Kara yaniya-kathaka Grihya-sutra, while some of them have been traced in the Kathaka as well. And what is even more important, the Kathaka Grihya does not contain those Mantras alone, but nearly all the Sutras in which they occur; and it may be stated therefore, secondly, that the Vishsu-sutra has four long sections, viz. Chapter LXXIII, and Chapters XXI, LXVII, LXXXVI, excepting the final parts, in common with that work, while the substance of Chapter LXXIV may also be traced in it. The agreement between both works is very close, and where they differ it is generally due to false readings or to enlargements on the part of the Vishnu-sutra. However, there are a few cases, in which the version of the latter work is evidently more genuine than that of the former, and it follows, therefore, that the author of the Vishnu- sutra cannot have borrowed his rules for the performance of Sraddhas &c. from the Kathaka Grihya-sutra, but that both must have drawn from a common source, i. e. no doubt from the traditions current in the Katha school, to which this work is indebted for so many of its Mantras as well.
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