How to Study Ancient History for UPSC Exam

Ancient History is an important part of the USPC civil services syllabus mainly the UPSC prelims exam. Every year at least 5 – 6 questions are asked from this section in the IAS prelims. Many candidates tend to ignore this section in favour of modern History but let it be reiterated that 5 – 6 questions is indeed a lot in the larger scheme of things in the UPSC exam where you have to fight for every single mark. Moreover, History is the story of the past and whatever the world is seeing today is a continuation of things that were set in motion thousands of years ago! A good understanding of modern History mandates that ancient History is read with understanding. In this article, you will read about how to study ancient History for UPSC exam.

Along with ancient History, you should also focus heavily on art and culture as the UPSC is leaning on to this section in recent years.

For simplicity, ancient History can be subdivided into the following (ancient history syllabus for UPSC):

  • Prehistoric period
  • Indus Valley Civilization
  • Vedic Period
  • Empires and Kingdoms of Ancient India
  • Art forms (Dance, Music, Literature, architecture)
  • Religion/philosophy of Ancient India

How to Read Ancient History for UPSC?

For simplicity and a comprehensive understanding of the subject, we suggest the following methodology for you to cover the ancient history syllabus for IAS. Three readings are recommended.

Reading #1: A basic book like NCERT textbook or Tamil Nadu State Board XII textbook

In this reading, you should focus on understanding the chronology of events. The Tamil Nadu textbook is ideal in this regard as it doesn’t delve into details and analyses of things. Events are mentioned in chronological order, and it can be a good start for fresh students of ancient history. The NCERTs are equally good. They give you a bit more analysis and are considered must-reads for the IAS exam. Specific facts that you find in the NCERTs like names of officers, aliases of kings, etc. are essential from the UPSC Prelims exam point of view.

You can read NCERT notes on Ancient History here. These notes are crisp and compiled in a student-friendly manner.

Reading #2: Advanced textbooks

In the second reading, you should upgrade to a higher-level textbook. In this reading, you should read the topics with a keen eye for subtleties and understand not just what happened when, but why they happened and what were the effects of the events. You should start making notes at this stage.

Reading #3: Revision

The third reading is about revising what you have learnt previously. You should also try to solve previous years’ question papers and even some mock test papers.

Also See | UPSC Prelims Trend Analysis for History

Focus Areas in Ancient History

  • Special attention must be given to sources of information in ancient History and the analysis of various theories.
  • Art and culture subject is extremely important. You can get more tips on how to read art and culture for the IAS exam here.
  • Indus Valley Civilization/Harappan Civilization.
  • Buddhism and Jainism
  • Philosophy of ancient India (Vedas, Upanishads, six schools of philosophy/thought, Dharmashastras, Puranas)
  • Society (women, professions, caste, economic set-up)
  • Terms in Ancient History (Very Important for UPSC Prelims – Get important terms from this link)
  • Maurya and Gupta Ages

Sources to study Ancient History for UPSC

  • India’s Ancient Past – R.S. Sharma (Indias ancient past PDF)
  • Facets of Indian Culture – Spectrum
  • NCERT Class XI – An Introduction to Indian Art
  • NCERT Class XI – Living Craft Traditions of India (Chapters 9 & 10)
  • Centre for Cultural Resources and Training (CCRT) official Website
  • The Wonder That Was India – A.L. Basham (For religion and philosophy)
  • Ancient Indian History Class VI NCERT textbook
  • NCERT Class XII – History – Themes in Indian History Part I
  • Tamil Nadu State Board Class XI textbook

Related Links:

UPSC Mains Syllabus UPSC Books
UPSC 2023 UPSC Notes
How to Study History for IAS UPSC Calendar 2023


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