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How To Approach History Optional for Mains

  • Categories
    General Studies
  • Published
    16th Apr, 2019


  • History of India can be divided into 3 sections – Ancient, Medieval and Modern. Over the years a  significant weight age has been given to History.
  • As per the recent trend at least 15-20% weight age is being given to History.
  • Syllabus of history is quite vast. Keeping this in mind aspirant has to be very precise while preparing history segment for the CIVIL SERVICES EXAM. So what strategy should be adopted? Because a little distraction from the syllabus can lead aspirant to the path of failure.
  • There is one answer to all questions – You have to think smart! Analyzing the previous year papers one thing is clear that more weightage has been given to ‘Modern History’. So to extract the maximum benefit for the time invested, ‘prioritize’ in this order- Modern> Ancient> Medieval History.

To ease the preparation we have divided History into 4 Sections – Modern, Ancient, Medieval and Culture. Under each section we have analysed the weight age given, what aspects to focus on and the books to refer.

1. Modern India

  • Emergence of regional powers in the early decades of 18thCentury is considered as a transition from the Medieval to Modern India.
  • The early modern India witnessed the fall of the great Mughal Empire, the Marathas that led to the consolidation of British rule in India.
  • The mid-phase marks the struggle of Indians against British rule in which  Revolt of 1857 (or the First War of Independence), Organisation of Indian National Congress, Role of Moderates and the Extremists can be considered as the key events .
  • And finally the last stage stands testimony to various National Movements –Civil Disobedience Movements, Quit India Movement, Formation of Constitution Assembly and Sampoorna Swaraj (or Complete Independence) to India.
  • Modern India is the most important section from the UPSC PRELIMS perspective. The weight age given to this section over the years is the testimony to the significance of this section.

How to read Modern History?

In this section, we come across various revolts/movements/agitations (like 1857 revolt, Tebhaga Peasant Movement, Home Rule Movement, Quit India Movement).

  • Focus
    • The Purpose of the movement[s]
    • The Reasons which led to the movement[s]
    • The Consequences of the movement[s]
    • The people who participated in this movement[s]
    • Famous Personalities involved in the movement[s] and their contribution
    • The role of Press and Literature
    • Note: Also note down the ‘chronology’ of the major Movements and Missions sent by the British to gain support of the Indians and extend their rule.

Type of Administration (Revenue, Military)

  • Focus:
    • Type of Administration followed during The Mughal’s rule. Example: Mansabdari System, Jagirdhari – its significance and impact.
    • The British rule. Example: Subsidiary alliance, Permanent Settlement, Mahalwari system etc. – its significance and impact.
    • Similarities and Differences between the Mughal and the British Administration
    • Consolidation of the British rule in India– through enactment of various Acts/Laws (Regulation Act, 1773 to Indian Independence Act, 1947).
    • At least two to three important changes/provisions made under each Act and the Governor Generals involved should be noted down. And also the impact of the Act should be given importance. Example: Under Charter Act, 1833- The East Indian Company’s monopoly over tea and China was ended. Lord William Bentinck was the Governor-General then and he was instrumental in abolition of ‘sati’ system.

Colonial Rule in India

  • Focus:
    • Political-Administrative organization, Policies of the British India.
    • Social, Economic setup like Agrarian Systems (Example: Permanent Settlement)
    • Important Reports, Sessions, Acts, Committees setup during the British period 
    • Note:Give special importance to Events, Movements (including Tribal, Peasant and Trade Union Movements) and Acts passed after Revolt of 1857.

Religious and Social Reform Movements (from 1800 AD to 1947 AD)

This is another important section of Indian National Movement from the Prelims point of view.

  • Focus:
    • The Ideological base – rationalism, humanism and universalism
    • Reform Movements like Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj, Theosophical Society, Harijan Movement etc.
    • who started these movements
    • what was the objective and emphasis of these movements
    • How these movements were important in building a sense of nationalism among Indians.
    • Social reforms that had an impact on Education, Status of Women, Caste system of the society.

Famous Personalities (Mahatma Gandhi, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, Subash Chandra Bose, Dadabhai Naoroji, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bhagat Singh, Annie Besant etc)

  • Focus:
    • Their contributions – literature, organization of movements and their role in India’s Freedom Struggle.

2. Ancient History

The ancient History starts from the earliest time to the middle of 8th Century AD. This article tells you on how to read and what topics to focus on from Prelims perspective.

First, we have to analyze very carefully that what kind of questions are asked in For PRELIMS AND MAIN EXAMINATION. You can also to optimize your time and efforts during your exam preparation.

  • Related to Literature and Philosophical Development (Religion, Philosophy, Society etc).
  • Art (Music, Dance, Early art forms etc).
  • Architecture (Key architecture styles and their evolution in North, South etc).
  • To decode these points, see last three years Prelims and five years General Studies papers (related to History and Ancient period in particular)

We will try to give a basic checklist based on the different facets of the Ancient Indian History, and it will give you as idea about what aspects you should read.

Give importance to such topics:

Indus Valley Civilization:

  • Its characteristic features, unique aspects of important sites.
  • Locations of Mahajanapadas and Contemporary Society and Culture.

While studying these Kingdoms, you have to focus on the following aspects:

  • The rise of the Empires – causes, impact.
  • Important Rulers – Chandra Gupta Maurya, Ashoka (Ashoka’s Dhamma, Edicts and important sites where they were found) and their contribution to the society, art and culture.
  • The Economic and Social Conditions during the rule
  • Art and Architecture
  • Literature -Famous literary works – Kalidasa’s ‘Abhigyanashakuntalam’ etc.
  • Development of Science and technology – Aryabhatta’s ‘Suryasiddhanta’ etc.
  • The Decline of the empires – causes
  • Foreign travellers and their works Example: Chinese traveler Fahein’s account of India during in the 5th
  • Note: Special importance should be given to Mauryan and Gupta’s time

3. Medieval History

The Medieval History begins from the middle of 8th Century AD to the start of 18th Century AD. Question’s from Medieval History is limited, unlike Ancient and Modern History but then you never know, UPSC can spring out surprises. Many aspirants skip this section, but you can smartly Focus on certain topics and leave no stone unturned in your preparation.

One can give importance to such topics:

  • Sultanate period Society-Culture, Art and Architecture (what new things were brought by Islamic rulers).
  • Contours of Vijayanagar Empire (Contribution to art, architecture, language, society).
  • Key wars (like Battles of Panipat, Battle of Talikota etc - from the point of historical implications).
  • Bhakti Ideology and Sufi Ideology - development and evolution.
  • Mughal Art, Architecture, Music, Society and Literature - evolution through generations and their offshore in term of Rajput School of Art and Pahari School of Art.
  • Contribution of Akbar and important Mughal emperors.
  • Fall of Mughal Empire, struggle between French and British forces.

Indian Culture :

Over the years Indian culture has become an important segment from where the most unexpected questions are asked  in PRELIMS EXAM . This portion amalgamates Ancient Medival and Modern Indian History. The Indian Culture is quite diverse and dynamic. It covers areas like Art, Architecture, Literature, Dance Forms, Music and Paintings ranging from prehistoric era to the modern era. The most challenging part is to cover this segment while linking static to the dynamic part.

Strategy for Art and Culture For UPSC Prelims & Mains

The area of Art & Culture is a very diverse in nature. The aspirant while preparing for this section must stick to the syllabus only and should study that much which is important from the exam perspective. The main components that should be focused upon during preparation:

1. Basic Concepts :

For basic concepts and develop basic understanding students should go through History textbooks of Class VI and VII and XI and XII (NCERTs). Keeping this in view one should study fine arts textbook of Class 11th  should be studied in detail for the art-forms specifically.

2. Standard Material:

Art and Culture is static topic in Prelims and requires lots of mugging up. But the material available related to it is very vast and eats up lots of crucial time of an aspirant. Hence, GS SCORE has come up with the quick revision notes on Art and Culture, which covers material from various sources under one platform. It covers:

  1. National symbols of India
  2. Classical and folk dance
  3. Classical and Folk Music
  4. Puppetry
  5. Theatre
  6. Architecture
  7. Paintings
  8. Martial arts
  9. World heritage sites
  10. Different forms of weaving and sarees
  11. Current affairs related to Art and Culture, etc.

3. Leverage online resources For Preparing Art and Culture For UPSC:

Online resources such as Official website of CCRT (Centre for Cultural Resources & Training) is quite important for all the important updates relating to Indian Culture. Students should keep an eye on PIB Website for information on GI tags, and other important information on recent cultural festivals and programs. Newspaper like The Hindu is also important in this regard. Society and History and Culture section of The Hindu can be followed for the regular updates in this area.


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