THE Vishnu-smriti or Vaishnava Dharmasāstra or Vishnu-sūtra 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-sūtra, though this ancient title of the Sūtra works on law has been preserved in the MSS. of those Smritis only, which have been handed down, like the Dharma-sūtras of Āpastamba, Baudhāyana, and Hiranyakesin, as parts of the respective Kalpa-sūtras, to which they belong. The size of the Vishnu-sūtra, 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-sūtras; 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 the 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 Vishnu-sūtra, 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.
[1. This was first pointed out by Professor Max Müller, History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature, p. 134. His results were confirmed and expanded by the subsequent researches of Dr. Bühler, Introduction to Bombay Digest, I, p. xxii; Indian Antiquary, V, p. 30; Kasmir Report, p. 36.]