Volume 6, Issue 1, 2018
Asian Religions and Violence
The Autophagous Absolute
Revelations of Cosmic and Sovereign Violence in the Bhagavad Gītā and the Taittirīya Upaniṣad
A key function of the autophagous imagery ascribed to Kṛṣṇa in the Bhagavad Gītā (BhG) is to reassert long-held Brahmanical convictions about the role of violence in politics, and thereby to respond to anxieties about the association of sovereignty with violent action. This essay examines the textual roots of these convictions, found in the depiction of the autophagous knower of brahman in Taittirīya Upaniṣad (TU), in order to assess the socio-historical significance of the BhG’s imagery of Kṛṣṇa as an autophagous absolute. By discerning the links between the TU’s and BhG’s depictions of autophagy, I argue that the BhG forwards a renewed cosmological justification for the performance of violent acts by kṣatriyas that relies especially upon the alliance between priestly and political/martial powers, and that therefore seeks to elevate Brahmanical paradigms of sovereignty over those that question the necessity of violence in the exercise of political power.