Lalita Prasad Vidyarthi (28 February 1931â€“1985) was one of the most renowned Indian anthropologists of the 20th century. He was the Head of the Department of Anthropology, Ranchi University. In 1951 Vidyarthi learned of the Maler tribe which according to him was one of the few primitive tribes of great anthropological interest in India. When he got to know about the excessive primitiveness of the isolated Malers he decided to make them the object of his scientific investigation.
Vidyarthi explained how the ecological basis of forests and the slash-and-burn cultivation shaped the socio-economic life of the Maler tribe. He studied man in relation with man. Lastly he presented the four types of Maler spirits, (Gossaiyan â€” the benevolent spirits, Jiwe Urrkya â€” the ancestors, Alchi â€” evil spirits and Chergani â€” spiritual power of a witch or witchcraft) in a framework of sacred geography, sacred performances, and sacred specialists. Nature, Man and spirit interact of necessity. This was the basis of the famous concept of Nature-Man-Spirit Complex proposed by Vidyarthi.
The concept of Nature-Man-Spirit complex was put forth by L.P Vidyarthi in his book The Maler: A Study in Nature-Man-Spirit Complex in which he describes the culture of a hill tribe the Maler in terms of this complex where the three ingredients of the complex are interdependent and mutually complementary. It is based on the fact that arising out of man's close interaction with and dependence on nature is his belief in the supernatural and the spirit world. It has been found that in tribal India there is an intimate relationship and interaction between social organizations on the one hand and religious complex and ecological conditions on the other hand.
In certain circumstances it appears that nature and spirit conditions some of the social ways and practices while in others it sounds as a case of adjustment for smooth living. At times the relationship appears unavoidable; its avoidance would cause hardship to the people. But at other places the shift in some of the lifestyles has been reported leading thereby to the easing of severity traditionally defined in nature-man-spirit complex.
The book was divided into three parts with Nature, Man and Spirit respectively. In the first part he demonstrates the ecological basis of Maler culture showing the importance of hills and forests as well as the cultivation around which the entire Maler life revolved. In the second part dealing with Man he examines the network of relationships in all its aspects including the structure and organization of the family, different social institutions and lifecycle of a typical Maler.In the third part on Spirit he describes the religious beliefs in supernatural beings, sacred centers, sacred performances and sacred specialists.
Vidyarthi asserted that Maler culture originated, developed and flourished in the lap of nature. Forests surround the Malers and mainly exiling it in the context of its forests can have comprehensive understanding of this culture. In addition to providing land for slash-and burn- cultivation a main source of Maler economy the forests provide them with food, drink, shelter, medicine etc. He discovered that every moment of the Maler life was profoundly influenced by nature on the one hand and spirit on the other. These two ingredients of the complex play a paramount role in the life cycle of the Maler people.