Categories Anthropology II

II. 3.3.1 Sacred Complex


Under the guidance of Robert Redfield (civilizational school of Anthropology) Lalit Prasad Vidyarthi developed the concept of Sacred Complex.

Sacred Complex explained the diffusion of culture by Great traditions and little traditions. Robert Redfield as hypothesized that the centre of reverence should be the centres of diffusion as they are the place of cultural interactions. L.P. Vidyarthi studied the religious structure of Gaya while developing the concept of Sacred complex.

Civilization consists of tribal communities, peasant community and urban centres representing tribe, little tradition and great tradition.

The concept of sacred complex

Put forth in book “Sacred complex of Hindi Gaya” under the influence of Chicago school of social anthropology.

Structure of sacred complex

Vidyarthi studied and analysed the Gaya with the concept of sacred Geography, Sacred Specialists and Sacred performances collectively called sacred complex.

Sacred geaograhy- it includes sacred rivers, stones, trees, buildings etc having property of sacredness.

Sacred Performances- the pilgrims perform various specialized rituals like Pind dan, Gaya Shradhha, Tarpan, , Puja, Hawan, Prayers. Dan performed by Gayawal Brahmin.

Sacred specialists- performances are performed by Monk, Priest, Florist, Recitor, Philanthropist.

Vidyarthi observed that even in Gaya the hierarchy and social structure of the society percolated into sacred specialist to give rise to sanskritic priest, feudalistic priest and folk priest.

Sacred geography Sacred specialists Sacred Performances
GT Urban centre Brahmin Gaya Shradha
LT Peasant community Folk priest Prayer

There is diffusion of cultural traits in little traditions and greater traditions. Religious experiences become binding force which leads to development of common cultural consciousness under psychological impact of such centres.

When cultural element from great tradition enters little tradition through the process of sanskritisation it is called parochialisation while the reverse is called universalisation.

makim marriotIn sacred complex,

Parochialisation – When a person visits a sacred location, he carries with him practices not known earlier. Like Hawan

Universalisation- when sacred specialist Jajman visits yajman and carries with him the cultural elements of little element to great tradition. Like, plant, animal(cow worship), snake worship.

Janakpur temple of Nepal, in Rama temple there is temple if Rajarajeshwar where animal sacrifice are undertaken.

Interplay of sacred complex with other concepts

When little tradition, great tradition interact with tribal community results in Tribe- caste continuum.


Saraswati- Holy circuit of Nimsar, Temple organisation in Gaya and Kashi

Others- the sacred complex of Ratanpur, Mahapatras, lingraj temple- its structure and changes.


  1. They are centres of civilization where diffusion of cultural elements and traits takes place among great tradition and little tradition .
  2. Through the process of parochialisation and universalisation they integrate cultural diversity into a common shared history of civilization.
  3. Sacred complex helps in maintaining cultural continuity even in the absence of efficient means of transport and communication.
  4. Emergence and development of urban centres in India.
  5. Integration of India as a cultural entity.

Sacred complex represents the sub cultures of civilization and its phases – orthodox, semi orthodox and modern. They have structurally and culturally intricate and intimate interdependence.

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