THE HEADLESS HORSEMAN OF CENTRAL INDIA: Sovereignty at Varying Thresholds of Life



Building on recent anthropological discussions on sovereignty and life, I examine the political theologies of Thakur baba, a minor sovereign deity in central India. How might we understand spirits and deities as cohabitants with the living? Following Gilles Deleuze, I set out the idea of “varying thresholds of life.” How do we conceptualize relations of power between these thresholds? Engaging Thakur baba's capacity to harm and to bless, I show how this sacred ambivalence may be understood as an expression of deified sovereignty. In contrast to Agamben and Schmitt's more absolutist political theology, I set out a “bipolar” concept of sovereignty as varying relations of force and contract, a tension I find best named by the Vedic mythological pair of Mitra-Varuna. Rather than a direct mirroring of social or historical sovereignty, I locate Thakur baba's vitality in a weave of kin and spirit relations, and in his status as a human sacrifice. In conclusion I analyze how these deified powers might wax and wane.