There has been a lot of misunderstanding surrounding tantra and the tantric practices of Buddhism and Hinduism over the years. There are diverse attitudes towards the traditions and a lot of misconception, ranging from their classic impression as the pathway to liberation to the general relations to libertine sexuality and sorcery. To understand tantra in all its traditions and doctrines, it is essential to trace its origins to where it all started.
There have been various attempts to determine the origin of tantra and the tantric traditions. Many have tried to trace the tradition to the early time of the ancient Hindu or Buddha sages. There have also been indications that showed that tantra can be traced to the Indus Valley civilization era. With the different efforts that have been put in gear to date the tantra traditions, it seems that the earliest tantric practice was first discovered in the Hindu framework around the first millennium CE.
The tantric traditions and practices originated during the first millennium CE within Hinduism. During this period, the Hindu tradition went through a significant cycle of transition and transformations from ancient Vedic to the classic traditions of the Hindus. This is the era that heralded the growth of the Bhakti and tantric movements. While the Bhakti devotional movement grew from the predisposition to monotheism as seen in the late Vedic literature, the tantric tradition grew from the Vedic ritual, meditative, and yogic traditions which developed within the ancient Hinduism and the rival Jain and Buddhist traditions. The Hinduism being practiced today is the result of the fusion of tantric and the devotional inclinations to practice which grew around the first millennium CE.
Tantra, as practiced in Buddhism and Hinduism, has been poorly perceived because of the strong connection of the tantric traditions with violent ritual practices, sexuality, and magical practices. This has made the practice to be associated with black magic over the past centuries in India. However, the practice of tantra is manifold which spans many cultural and religious traditions. Tantra primarily focuses on meditative and ritual practices which use tantras, the genre of scripture that acts as the canonical foundation for the many tantric traditions, as its basis.
One very important force in the history of the propagation of tantra is lineage. This is the transmission of the teachings across an uninterrupted lineage from the master to the disciple. This lineage focus is found across the tantric world which originated from India and was transmitted to East Asia and Tibet.
Based on the development of this tradition, it can be categorically stated that Tantra originated from India around the 300-400 CE when the Buddhist and Hindu tantric content was first documented as poetic metaphors indicating Divine love and oneness. These texts were intentionally kept obscured so that only the initiates would be able to understand them. During this period, tantra teachings were well guarded and conveyed from masters to disciples orally. This is done after a specified period of purification and preparation.
Between the 11th and 12th centuries, the practice of tantra has reached its peak and was being practiced openly and widely in India. Tantric yogis believed that the suffering of human emanates from the negative notion of separation. The practice, therefore, promotes the celebration of the sensual which transcend the physical.