How to Study Ancient History for UPSC Exam

Ancient History is an important part of the USPC civil services syllabus particularly 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 favor 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 understand 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: 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 the 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. In fact, certain facts that you find in the NCERTs like names of officers, aliases of kings, etc. are very important from the UPSC Prelims exam point of view.

You can read NCERT notes on Ancient History topics from 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 also 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 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, 6 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

You can download Ancient History for UPSC PDF/Ancient Indian History for UPSC PDF free.

For tips on how to read medieval and modern history for UPSC exam, click on the link below:

How to Study / Prepare History for IAS