The tradition of Indian sculpture extends from the Indus Valley Civilization from 2500 to 1800 BC, during which small terracotta figurines were produced. The large circular stone pillars and carved lions from the Mauryan period (3rd century BC) gave way to Indian figurative sculpture in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, in which Hindu and Buddhist themes were already well established. A wide range of styles and traditions subsequently flourished in different parts of India in the following centuries, but by the 9th -10th century AD Indian sculpture had reached a form that has lasted with little change to the present day.

By the time of the Bronze Age, stone carving was already the predominant form of artistic expression throughout the Indian subcontinent, although wall painting was also popular. Sculpture was primarily used as a form of religious art to illustrate the principles of Hinduism, Buddhism, or Jainism.

Indian sculpture is life itself in all its forms, it expresses the ideal of beauty through the observation of nature and has a symbolic value, through which the sculptor evokes the sense of the divine and the transcendent.

There is an almost complete suppression of individuality in Indian sculpture; this is because the figures are conceived as symbols of eternal values, as forms that are more perfect and definitive than anything to be found in the merely transitory aspect of human models. The multiple heads and arms of the carved Hindu deities were believed to be necessary to display the multiple attributes of the power of the gods.