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Vishnu Dharmasutra In Hinduism

In Hinduism, Vishnu Dharmasutra is a sutra text comprising one hundred chapters composed in 400 – 600 CE. Vishnudharmasutra has been recast later from the Vaishnavite point of view, retaining many of the older doctrines.

The number of sutras in each chapter is not uniform, sometimes the chapter is reduced to a single sutra. Except the first and the last chapters in verse, the other chapters are in mixed prose and verse. Many sutras are prose renderings of the verses occurring in Manusmriti. The text is closely related to the Katha School of Krishna Yajur Veda and covers a wide range of topics on dharma.

After describing the duties of the four varnas and the king, Vishnu Dharmasutra deals with the different offenses and appropriate punishments. Rules relating to the joint family, partition and inheritance are also dealt with. The text explains the ordeals of balance, fire, water, poison and holy water for establishing guilt. It notices the division of time as kalpa, yugas and manvantaras. The work deals with the rites for the dead, the period of pollution due to birth and death, and the annual ceremonies for the departed, too. Different kinds of pollution arising from contact with external bodies and methods of purification are explained. Eight types of marriages and intermarriages are also discussed. Different kinds of sacraments, rules governing student life and life as a householder, as a forester, and as recluse are dealt with elaborately. They are extensive discussions on the rules governing the performance of Shraddha (the annual ceremony) for the dead.

Passion, anger, and greed are mentioned as the sources of sin. Sins are classified as atipatakas (the deadliest sins), mahapatakas (five great sins) and upapatakas (countless minor sins), and other lesser sins. Twenty one hells and the duration of torments in those hells for various sinners are mentioned. Various kinds of expiation have been laid down for different kind of offenses. It is believed that sinners suffer consequences in the form of diseases. The text gives a long list of sacred places. The text glorifies making different kinds of gifts. It describes purta (the acts of public utility), like dedicating wells, tanks, gardens, and so on. The text gives an anatomy of the bones, muscles, veins and arteries.

It gives a long list of omens at the time of commencing a journey. The sight of a yellow-robed ascetic is included among the evil omens. It has an exclusive chapter giving directions for the worship of Vasudeva (Bhagavan Sri Krishna). It mentions the four vyuha forms of Vasudeva and the manifestation of Bhagavan Vishnu as a boar.

Vishnu Dharmasutra quotes from all Vedic Samhitas and Aitareya Brahmana and mentions the Vedangas frequently. Some digests on dharma quote some prose passages of the text and ascribe them to Brihadvishnu. Another Nibandha work quotes a verse of Vriddhavishnu, which is a summary of some sutras of Vishnu. Besides these, a Laghuvishnusmriti in a hundred and fourteen verses divided into five chapters has been printed, and it deals with the duties of the four castes and the ashramas (four stages in life).