The shuttler was unable to strike gold but was overjoyed with her record-breaking achievements as she forced world number one Carolina Marin to three games in the women’s singles final.
“When I was playing in the semi-finals I was like ‘No, I’m not going to get bronze,” said Sindhu, who has two third-place finishes at the world championships to her name.
“I fought really hard and played my heart out. When it came to the final I thought ‘I just have one match to go. Give it your best,'” she added.
The 21-year-old from the southern Indian city of Hyderabad won the first game of Friday’s final 21-19 before succumbing 21-12 and 21-15 in the remaining two for second place.
Her exploits bettered that of fellow Indian Saina Nehwal, who won badminton bronze at the London Games four years ago.
Indian women had only won four medals before Sindhu grabbed silver, and they were all bronze.
Weightlifter Karnam Malleswari was the first to win one, at Sydney 2000. Boxer Mary Kom finished third in London while wrestler Sakshi Malik claimed bronze in Brazil on Wednesday.
“I’m the first Indian woman to get a silver medal at the Olympics so that’s a great thing for me. I’m really proud of my country and now I’ve brought them this,” she beamed.
Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar tweeted his congratulations.
“Well played India’s youngest individual Olympics medal winner. You have won our hearts with the splendid performance,” he wrote.
Sindhu and Malik are India’s only two medallists at Rio so far, with none of its male athletes yet to step on the podium, a disappointing return for the country of almost 1.3 billion people.