Both Buddhism and Hinduism were widely prevalent. The characteristic features of Hinduism enabled it to survive till today; whereas the new features of Buddhism led to its final decline. Although Buddhism still appealed in matters of ritual making it to be regarded as a sect of the latter. Jainism escaped from this fate. It remained unchanged; and there fore it continued to be supported by the merchant communities of western India. Added to this in some areas of the Deccan royalty patronized Jainism although it ceased in the 7th century A.D.
Although Buddhism gradually declined with in the country it spread beyond the frontiers of India first to central Asia and then to China and also to South-East Asia.
A far more important development of the 5th century was the emergence of a curious cult associated with the worship of women deities and fertility cults. These became the nucleus of a number of magical rites which later came to be known as tantricism Buddhism too came under this influence leading to the evolution or a new branch of Buddhism in the 7th century called vajrayana of Thunderbolt Vehicle Buddhism. In this Buddhism female counterparts came to be added to the male figures known as taras. This particular cult exists even tody in Nepal and Tibet.
Devi worship - the cult of the mother goddess the oldest of all religious - also seems to have received the imprimature of orthodoxy during this period. We have the avidence of Gunadhya that tantric forms of worship were prevalent in the first century B.C. Kalidasa himself seems to have been a worshipper of the Devi. His name itself proclaims it as it is obviously an assumed one which means the servant of Kali. Besides the benedictory verse in Raghuvamsa clearly states the Sakta doctrine of the indivisibility of Siva and parvati. The God Mahakala of Ujjain whose worship the poet describes with manifest devotion was as we known from Gunadhya's story incorporated in Kathasarit Sagara adorned with tantric rites. In fact not only the different modes of Devi worship but the ceremonials of the tantric system in their various forms were well-known in the Gupta period.
While the above developments occurred in Buddhism and Jainism Hinduism developed some distinct characteristics which exist even till today. The first is the worship of images which superseded sacrifices. The sacrifices of the olden days were transformed into symbolic sacrifices into the images in the poojas. This naturally led to the decline of the priests who were dominant in sacrifices. Worship of god indeed became the concern of the individual but regulating individual social behaviour still remained the concern of the Brahmin. Man-made traditions of the past began to be treated as sacred laws. Orthodoxy attempted to maintain its power by rigid rules of exclusion. However seeing the difficulty of enforcing the sacred laws a more broad frame of difference came to be evolved as the four ends of man-religion and social law (dharma) economic welfare. (artha) pleasure (kama) and salvation of the soul (moksha). Then onwards it is being maintained that a correct balance of the first three could lead to the fourth.
Among those who practiced religion in a serious manner two sects came into existence - Vaishnuvism and Shaivism. Broadly speaking the first was mostly prevalent in northern India while the second in southern India. At this time the tantric beliefs left their mark on Hinduism. Shakti cults came into existence the subtle idea being that the male can be activated only by being united with the female. It was thus that Hindu gods acquired wives and both came to be
worshiped. Apart from tantricism the appearance of this feature of Hinduism was probably promoted by the persistence of the worship of the mother Goddess which probably could be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization.
Along with these developments the ground was prepared for the concept of svataras also. Hindu thinkers evolved the concept of cyclical theory of time. The cycle was called a kalpa. The kalpa itself is divided into fourteen periods. At the end of each period, the universe re-emerges with Manu, the primeval men. Each of these kalpas is further divided into great intervals and ultimately into Yugas or periods of time. As per the concept of this theory of time we are in the fourth of the Yugas, that is, the Kaliyuga with which the world will its end. The Kaliyuga is also associated with which the world will reach its end 10 the 10th incarnation of Vishnu.
All these developments in Hinduism were associated with disputations between Buddhists and brahmins. These debates centred around six systems of thought which came to be known as the six systems of Hindu philosophy - Nyaya or analysis based on logci, Vaisheshika or
brood characteristics according to which the universe is composed of atoms as
distinct from the soul' sankhya or enumeration recognizing dualism between matter and soul or athemeis, yoga or application relying on control over the body in order to acquire knowledge of the ultimate law of the Vedas as opposed to pose-Vedic thought, and Vedanta to refute the theories of non-Vedas. As known from the above analysis the first four schools are empirical in nature, whereas, the latter two are metaphysical. In later ages mimamasa and Vedanta gained over the others.
The above discourses were at the elite level and the generally of people came to possess their own books of knowledge. The Puranas as known to us today were composed in this period historical traditions as recorded by the brahmins. They were originally composed in parts but in this period they came to be re-written in
classical Sanskrit. Later, knowledge relating to Hindu sex, rites and customs came to be added to them in order to make them sacrosanct.