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The main religion and social system in India. Followers, called Hindus, share a common belief in the law of karma, the transmigration of the soul, and the universal spirit or brahman. Its religious practices include the veneration of several deities, and its religious writings are the Vedas and the Ramayana. It developed as a distinct form of the pre-Buddhist Vedic religion, in response to the rise of Buddhism and the religious challenges it posed. During the subsequent period of religious change, the Mahabharata was composed, which introduced a new religious idea known as bhakti, a kind of worship in which one seeks unification with a personal god through intense devotion, thus hoping to free the soul. Unlike the practice of the Vedic sacrifice, which was open only to those who could afford to pay the Brahmin priests to perform the expensive rituals, or the Upanishads, philosophical dissertations of Hinduism from the 8th to 6th centuries BC and which became part of Vedic literature, the new bhakti movement was available to all people who wanted to devote themselves completely to a deity. The former Vedic high gods Indra (god of the heavens who presides over the air), Varuna (god of the waters) and Mitra (god of the sun) are replaced by the Trimurti (fig.) Vayu (the god of the wind who presides over the air), Agni (the god of fire who presides over the earth) and Surya (the god of the sun who presides over the sky), which are eventually swapped for the new divine triad Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva (fig.), and in the Mahabharata the god Krishna is introduced. Besides this, a multitude of other gods and goddesses are worshipped in Hinduism, from pan-Indian deities, such as Ganesha, to local protective gods, and with shaktis, i.e. the consorts of Hindu gods that personify their female aspect and energy, usually taking on a multitude of forms, both benevolent and destructive. The worship of goddesses is known as Shaktism, whereas the worship of Vishnu and Shiva led to the rise of two major sects, i.e. Vaishnavism and Shaivism. In practice, worship will take the form of rituals and prayers, which are generally referred to as puja. Between 300 AD and 1000 AD, roughly from the Gupta period to the time of the arrival of Islam in India, the Puranas were composed. Myths of Vishnu and Shiva make up a large part of these ancient stories and legends. Whilst Buddhism gradually spread to other parts of Asia with the support of the Indian-Mauryan emperor Asoka, after the dissolution of the Mauryan Empire the Buddhist religion in India started to decline. Under new royal patronage of later Hindu dynasties a resurgence of Brahmin powers took place and in India Hinduism became and remained the main religion. Today, Hinduism is the world's third largest religion, with an estimated 900 million followers worldwide. See also Tantrism and sadhu. WATCH VIDEO and VIDEO (EN).