The more things change the more they remain the same! An interesting example of this would be the austerities practiced by some Hindu sadhus and the beliefs that underline them. The belief is that self-inflicted physical stress creates ‘heat’ (tapas) and that this can impart super-normal powers (siddhi). These powers can then be used to attain certain worldly or spiritual goals. The range of austerities is wide but some of them are virtually the same as those practiced by certain ascetics at the time of the Buddha. Laying on beds of thorns (kantapassaya) is mentioned in the Tipitaka (e.g. D.I,167; Ja.III,235) and is still done today. Once I had to wait hours for a delayed train at Lucknow, and walking around outside the station I saw a sadhu, naked except for a small genital covering, standing beside a pile of tree branches with long murderous-looking thorns on them. A train came in and as crowds emerged from the station the sadhu finished the beedi he was smoking and then threw himself onto the thorns. It was one of the most startling sights I have ever seen. The thorns clearly penetrated his body but apparently caused him no pain. People tossed small coins at him as they passed.
The bat practice (vaggulivata) is mentioned in the Tipitaka (Ja.I,493; III,235; IV,299) and is still done. It consists of hanging upside-down by a rope for extended periods. Sometimes the practitioner will have another sadhu push him so he swings back and forward. I have never seen this being done. Another austerity still practiced is the “five fires” (Pali pancatapana, Hindi panch agni tapasya) which consists of sitting surrounded by five piles of smouldering dried cow dung. Some sadhus place one of these smouldering piles on their head. I have seen sadhus in Allahabad, at the Girnar Parikrama in Gujarat and elsewhere doing this. Sitting all day under the blazing Indian sun while breathing in the acrid smoke makes this one of the toughest of all austerities.
Many other aspects of Hindu asceticism done today would have been familiar to the Buddha; nakedness, matted hair (jati), extreme fasting, perpetual standing, etc. It is rather extraordinary when you think of it that such institutions, beliefs and practices could endure for so many centuries. And there is no sign that they are dying out.