In this first critical edition of the legal treatise of Visnu (Visnu Smrti), Olivelle locates the text geographically in Kashmir and dates it to around the seventh century ce based, among other factors, on the iconographic description of Visnu. The text was composed by a scholar who belonged to the Kathaka Branch of the Yajur Veda and who was also an adherent of the Vaisnava Pañcaratra tradition. This is the only legal text that shows a deep influence of the bhakti tradition. Although the Visnu Smrti did not have as illustrious a life as the treatises of Manu and Yajñavalkya, we find it cited frequently in medieval legal digests. Indeed, unlike citations from other Dharmasastras, medieval authors regularly cite entire sections of this treatise, indicating that they were familiar with a text more or less identical to the one that has come down to us. Consisting of 100 chapters, the text is framed as a conversation between Goddess Earth and Visnu, with Earth requesting the dharma that should govern the lives of those belonging to the four varnas. Originally published in the Harvard Oriental Series, this Indian edition will hopefully make this important text available to a wider Indian audience of scholars and students.
Patrick Olivelle is Professor Emeritus of Sanskrit in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin