Early thinkers tried to understand mysteries of existence. Rigveda depicted early Vedic tradition. Sacrifices were performed collectively by Brahmana priests. Both Mahavira and Buddha questioned Vedas and suggested that men and women should strive to attain liberation. Jaina philosophy was already in existence before the birth of Vardhman, who made it into a popular religion. Non-violence is the most fundamental of his teachings. Jainas produced literature in Prakrit, Sanskrit and Tamil. Later, two sects were established: Digambers and Shwetambers.

Buddha spent his life teaching dhamma - path of righteous living. Buddhism appealed to people dissatisfied with existing religious practices. Buddhist Sanghas were established by Buddha as organisation of monks.

Sources about Buddhism include texts, stupas and sculpture. Buddhist texts were of three types: Vinaya Pitaka, Sutta Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka. Stupas are mounds where relics of Buddha such as his bodily remains or objects used by him were buried. There were a total of eight stupas built by Ashoka, including Sanchi Stupa. Many sculptures at Sanchi stupa depict stories, not only from Buddhist literature, but also from non-Buddhist traditions.

By 1st century CE, the idea of a saviour emerged in Buddhism. While Theravada tradition followed early Buddhist teachings, Mahayana tradition accepted Buddha as saviour. Simultaneously, idea of saviour developed in Hindu traditions, like Vaishnavism, in which ten avatars were recognized. Some forms, and other deities, were represented in sculptures. Around period when stupas at places like Sanchi were being constructed, so were first temples to house images of gods and goddesses.

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