According to tradition, Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka around the middle of the 3rd century B.C.E. and it was soon the dominant religious force on the island, as it is today. The dating of early Buddhist sculptures from Sri Lanka remains problematic due to the lack of inscribed or dated images and only two broad stylistic categories exist. Earlier sculptures are often classified as in the style of Anuradhapura, named after the city that was the capital from about the 3rd century B.C.E. through the 10th century C.E. Many later works are categorized as Polonnaruwa style, also named for the location of the capital (993-1235), which was moved after Sri Lanka was attacked by the powerful Chola empire of southern India.
Two sculptures in the Asia Society's collection show some of the stylistic and iconographic variation in Anuradhapura-style sculptures and suggest that there were complex interrelationships between the many regional styles in South and Southeast Asian Buddhist art during this period. Sri Lanka's strategic position on the maritime trade routes meant that influences from other cultures were constantly present.