Strategy for Sanskrit Literature Optional for UPSC

“The Sanskrit language, whatever be its antiquity is of wonderful structure, more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin and more exquisitely refined than either.” – Sir William Jones

Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages in the world. It is the mother of many vernacular Indian languages. The UPSC offers literature of Sanskrit language as an optional subject for the civil services mains examination. Generally considered a tough language (partly because it is not a commonly heard language), many candidates, even those who had studied Sanskrit at school, shy away from opting for the Sanskrit optional. But, the truth is, there have been many successful IAS candidates with this optional. In this article, you will read all about the Sanskrit optional for the IAS mains – preparation strategy, pros and cons, book list for the exam, and more details.

How many take Sanskrit Literature optional?

On average, about a hundred candidates opt for Sanskrit literature as their optional subject. It also enjoys a decent success rate as we shall observe in the table given below:

Sanskrit optional success rate

Year No. of candidates appeared No. of candidates cleared Success Rate (%)
2015 109 7 6.4
2014 90 9 10.0
2013 71 4 5.6
2012 88 10 11.4
2011 51 6 11.8
2010 109 8 7.3

Sanskrit Optional Toppers

Name Year Rank
Aditya Kumar Jha 2018 339
Vijay Singh Gurjar 2017 574
Gaurav Singh Sogarwal 2016 46

Sanskrit optional pros and cons

There are many benefits associated with the Sanskrit optional for the IAS mains. It is not necessary to have taken Sanskrit at the graduation level if you are considering this as an optional. You just need to have learnt the basics in school. With this knowledge and a genuine liking for and an interest in the language, you can easily take up Sanskrit and achieve success in the IAS exam.

Sanskrit optional pros

  • The syllabus for Sanskrit literature is very small and limited. It is also well-defined and precise.
  • The syllabus is static and you do not have to update any current affairs for this optional unlike subjects like pub ad, political science, economics, etc.
  • There is less competition here because of the relatively less number of takers for Sanskrit.
  • Sanskrit is a very scoring subject. If you have prepared thoroughly, you can score good marks. The grammar portions especially are very scoring, and if you prepare thoroughly, you can score maximum marks in them.
  • You don’t have to be a graduate in the Sanskrit language for taking this optional. Basic knowledge is sufficient.
  • The whole syllabus can be covered in under 2 months. If you are a graduate in the language, you can easily cover it in one month or less.
  • Many things in Sanskrit are formula-based. The language is very scientific and systematic. This makes it easier than other languages.
  • The questions asked in the exam are also chiefly direct and straight-forward.
  • Revision in this optional does not take a lot of time and can be completed in a few days’ time.
  • Not all the answers in the papers need to be written in Sanskrit. Apart from a few questions which are necessary to be answered in Sanskrit alone, all the other questions can be answered in Hindi, English, or any other medium of a language which is the medium selected by the candidate.
  • Certain concepts which are to be studied under ancient Indian history such as Indian philosophy are covered here. The following portions in the Sanskrit syllabus can help you in other GS papers as well, especially in Indian philosophy and ethics papers.
    • Essentials of Indian Culture with stress on Purusarthas, Samskaras, Varnashramavyavastha, Arts and fine arts, Technical sciences.
    • Trends of Indian Philosophy:
      • Mimamsa
      • Vedanta
      • Nyaya
      • Vaisesika
      • Sankhya
      • Yoga
      • Buddha
      • Jaina
      • Carvaka

Sanskrit optional cons

  • There is no overlap with the general studies papers.
  • Coaching and a good test series are difficult to come by in the Sanskrit optional.
  • Opt for this optional subject only if you genuinely love the language.

UPSC Sanskrit syllabus

Let us take a look at the syllabus for Sanskrit Literature for the UPSC mains exam.

There are two optional papers in the UPSC exam pattern. Both the papers are for a total of 250 marks making the total optional marks to 500.

Download the Sanskrit syllabus for UPSC:-Download PDF Here

Sanskrit optional UPSC strategy

The question papers in this optional are divided into two sections A and B, in both Paper I and Paper II. In both the sections, you have to write the answers of at least three questions in Sanskrit itself compulsorily. The rest of the questions can be attempted in the medium opted by the candidate.

We have divided the syllabus into convenient sections as below:

Paper I (Shastric)

  1. Grammar
  2. Knowledge of language
  3. History of Sanskrit Literature
  4. Sahitya-Shastra
  5. Essay
  6. Sanskriti (Culture)
  7. Darshan (Philosophy)
  8. Unseen passages

Each of the sections is discussed below:


  • Under this section, you have to learn Sangya, Samas, sandhi, Vachya and Karak. Refer to Laghu Siddhanta Kaumudi for this section.

Knowledge of language

  • Under this section, there are three subsections:
    • Main characteristics of Vedic Sanskrit language
    • Prominent feature of classical Sanskrit language
    • Contribution of Sanskrit to linguistic studies
  • This is a tricky section as questions asked are sometimes not straightforward.
  • You can refer to books by Dr Kapil Dwivedi for this section.

History of Sanskrit Literature

  • This is a comprehensive section and must be dealt with thoroughly as it can also help in the first part of Paper-II.
  • Kavya is an important topic under this heading.


  • Important topics here are Kavya’s Lakshana, guna, prayojan and dosha also.
  • Also, study the 6 sampradayas and the Mula tattva of the Kavya, the debate surrounding this is also to be read (rasa Siddhanta, Alankara Siddhanta, Dhwani Siddhanta, etc.)

Essay (Nibandh)

  • Earlier, candidates could prepare a few essays and questions would be asked only from them.
  • But, now, the UPSC has changed the pattern. Essay topics are asked from the Sanskriti and Darshan topics of the syllabus itself.

Example questions (To be answered in Sanskrit only):

  1. Write an essay based on ‘Putusharthachatushtayam’ (10 marks, 2018)
    Q. Describe the concept and importance of Ashrama system. (10 marks, 2018)
  2. Establish the importance of Sankhya Darshana in philosophy literature. (10 marks, 2018)
  • Earlier the scope of knowledge required to write the essay questions was wide but it was easier with respect to the language required. Now, the reverse is true. The essay topics are asked from limited sources but it requires a good knowledge of the language to be able to write them well.

Sanskriti (Culture)

  • This section has some overlap with the General Studies section.

Darshan (Philosophy)

  • You can use Bharatiya Darshan Alochana Aur Anusheelan by CD Sharma for this section.

Unseen Passages

  • This is a scoring section.
  • Here, questions are asked from a given passage.

Paper-II (Literature)

The syllabus for this paper is divided into groups.

Part I

  • Group 1 – Chayanit Mahakavya
  • Group 2 – Pracheen Sahitya (ancient literature)
  • Group 3 – Sanskrit Natak (drama)
  • Group 4 – Sanskrit Vyakhya

Part II

  • Sanskrit Vyakhya – Mahakavya
  • Sanskrit Vyakhya – Aarsh Kavya
  • Hindi Vyakhya – Mishrit Kavya
  • Hindi Vyakhya – Natya Kavya

The literature section is relatively easier to prepare. If you go through the previous few question papers, you will get an idea of the kind of questions that are asked from them.

UPSC Sanskrit books

  • Rachnanuvadkaumudi by Kapildev Dwivedi
  • Brihad Anuvad Chandrika by Chakradhar Nautiyal “Hansa” Shastri
  • Bhasha Vigyan evam Bhasha Shastra by Kapildev Dwivedi
  • Sanskrit Sahitya ka Itihaas by Umashankar Sharma “Rishi”
  • Sanskrit Kavi Darshan by Bhola Shankar Vyas
  • R. Kale’s books on each of the Mahakavya
  • Separate books for topics of Group 2 – Pracheen Sahitya (ancient literature)
  • Original texts
    • Raghuvansham – Canto I, Verses 1 to 10
    • Kumarasambhavam – Canto I, Verses 1 to 10
    • Kiratarjuniyam – Canto I, Verses 1 to 10
    • Isavasyopanisad – verses -1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 15 and 18
    • Bhagavad Gita Chapter II verses 13 to 25
    • Sundarakandam of Valmiki Canto 15, Verses 15 to 30
    • Meghadutam – verses 1 to 10
    • Nitisatakam – Verses 1 to 10 (Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Publication)
    • Kadambar i- Sukanaso-padesa (only)
  • Shukanasopadesh – varnanam by Dr Rajendra Kumar

Related Links:

Leave a Comment

Your Mobile number and Email id will not be published. Required fields are marked *