The aspirants Civil Services Exam (CSE) find the syllabus of History comparable to an ocean; therefore, most of them struggle to find the right strategy for the preparation of the subject. The significance of Ancient History in the Union Public Service Commission’s (UPSC) Civil Services Exam can not be undermined, especially in UPSC Prelims, as every year, 5-6 questions are asked from this section only. Most aspirants tend to overlook this section in favour of Modern History, forgetting an important point that history is the tale of the past, and what the world is experiencing now is a continuation of events that began thousands of years ago! A thorough comprehension of current history necessitates a thorough understanding of ancient history.
The CSE, which is conducted by UPSC every year to recruit suitable candidates for the prestigious IAS, IPS, IRS and IFS, is considered the toughest in the country. This article will focus on important sources and topics that must be covered to score good marks in the Ancient History section. Candidates should read through the article and use it to their advantage.
Ancient History Sources
Reading from the right sources is very important to save time and excel in any competitive exam. The right material helps to cover the entire syllabus on time and gives the aspirants enough time for revision. Aspirants should be aware that in order to prepare for the exam, it is vital to stick to limited sources and not wander here and there for multiple sources. A few books in order to cover the Ancient History section for the UPSC Exam are given below; aspirants can select any two/three based on their own understanding.
- Ancient Indian History Class VI NCERT textbook
- NCERT Class XI – An Introduction to Indian Art
- NCERT Class XI – Living Craft Traditions of India (Chapters 9 & 10)
- NCERT Class XII – History – Themes in Indian History Part I
- Tamil Nadu State Board Class XI textbook
- India’s Ancient Past – R.S. Sharma (India’s ancient past PDF)
- Facets of Indian Culture – Spectrum
- Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) official website
- The Wonder That Was India – A.L. Basham (For religion and philosophy)
What Topics to Read in Ancient History
For simplicity, the Ancient History is divided into the following subtopics:
- Prehistoric period
- Indus Valley Civilization
- Vedic Period
- Empires and Kingdoms of Ancient India
- Art forms (Dance, music, literature, architecture)
- Religion/philosophy of Ancient India
If the aspirants have limited time to prepare for this subject, they can focus on a few important topics which are important for the exam. Questions from some topics are asked in the exam almost every year. Such topics must be covered in order to be able to answer the questions correctly. The areas to focus on in Ancient History are:
- Harappan Civilization/Indus Valley Civilization
- Jainism and Buddhism
- Ancient Indian philosophy (Vedas, Upanishads, six schools of philosophy/thought, Dharmashastras, Puranas)
- The society (women, professions, caste, economic set-up)
- Ancient History Words (Very Key for UPSC Prelims – Get important terms from this source)
- Ages of the Maurya and Guptas
Special attention must be given to sources of information in Ancient History and the analysis of various theories. Along with this, the art and culture subject is extremely important as the UPSC has been leaning on this section in recent years.
What Not to Read in Ancient History
It is very common to get carried away in preparation for this subject and hence get confused about what is important and what can be overlooked. The aspirants must keep in mind that there are a few topics which are irrelevant from the perspective of the exam. Such topics should be ignored while preparing for the exam and save time. Some of these topics are given below:
- Petty battles, precise years of rule and dynasty, political conflicts, conspiracies, succession fights, and so on.
- Small area empires and their specifics, names of numerous foreign invaders belonging to groups such as the Shakas, Pahlavas, and so on.
- Facts such as the names of small kings/small wars, the number of philosophers, saints, Puranas, temple names, and so on.
Going by the recent trends of UPSC papers, the questions in History are from some unconventional areas. However, there are certain areas from which at least one question is found each year, such as Indus Valley Civilization, Gupta Age, Buddhism and Jainism, Mahayana Buddhism, and the two schools of Jainism and Tantric cults. These topics must be prepared comprehensively in order to score good marks in the subject.
It is important to prepare this section well in order to be ahead of others in the competition. Aspirants must first devise a strategy that works for them and then stick to it throughout the year.